By ROSEMARY ONUOHA
Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Standard Alliance Insurance Plc Mr. Bode Akinboye, in this interview elucidates on the giant strides the company is taking to deliver superior services to customers.
What is your vision for Standard Alliance Insurance following your return to the insurance industry?
Having worked in the insurance industry for thirteen years, I needed to take a break and reappraise my carrier. While away, I also tried one or two things and went back to school briefly to refresh myself, of course having bigger vision for the sector. The need to work in the company where I can play more role not just as a manager but as an investor. That is what brought me back.
The opportunity came up whereby this company needed to re-jig its management and also infuse some new set of investors into the system. Because of my understanding of the company before and the value I placed on the brand, I was able to key into that opportunity and put together a team of like minds that have taken position in the company as strategic investors on the understanding that we are back to head the management.
So much has happened in the insurance industry with the advent of international players in the sector from Europe, South Africa, as well as Asia. More groups are still looking at investing in Nigeria if they have not already done so. Again, the no premium no cover rule has taken root effectively and the impact is already been felt positively in the industry. Beyond that is the change in the political governance of the country and as we all know everybody is expectant of positive change. As such, that should also transform to improvement in the wellbeing of the insurance sector and the companies that are playing in the sector.
To what extent has your partnership with strategic investors impacted on your operation?
I am a professional and the company needed to inject some money into its operations. Of course I don’t have all the money, so I have to bring people together and created a vehicle through which the investment was done. It is strategic because we want to be able to influence the direction of the company both at the board and management level so that the company can be well positioned for growth and to attract even more investors. Usually, it gets to a point in the history of an institution where you need to have strategic investors that can influence direction of the company. So for us, it is left for the market to judge the impact our strategic investors is having on our operations.
We are trying our best as we have brought stability, new focus to the company even the Board has been restructured. We have almost a brand new Board of Directors with only two members retained from the old board. Also, there is a new management team even though the management team is not 100 per cent new because I have been here before and I had to also call up on some of my old colleagues that worked with me in the past. Others have gone far to a point where you can’t easily bring them back as some are also heading other institutions and they are doing very well there.
But those that we believe can still come back and add value, we had been able to attract which is an added advantage because I am not the only one that believe in this brand, they also believe in the brand and that collectively we can turn things around. Our financial result so far is tending towards that and we are beginning to see positive change in both our top-line and bottom-line results.
How were you able to achieve this stability within a short time?
Well this company is a growing concern. This is a very strong company up till some few years ago when things went a bit low for the company. So what do we need to do? We needed to look at our customers first. If this was a company that ran nonstop for almost 13 years, declaring profit and paying dividend and bonus to shareholders, it means we had the customer base.
So, we are not a new company, therefore we have customers who are loyal to the brand, and understand what we stand for. so what we did was to go back to them and apologise to them in areas where we had not lived up to their expectations and recommitting to them that we are fully ready to restore our service culture which they are used to and we backed this up by paying claims that we inherited. For the claims we inherited, we have settled over N700 million from January till date on the general insurance portfolio and on the life portfolio we have paid almost N800 million for this year. The customers believe us, because they have tested us before, they know that when we say things, we act accordingly, which is the essence of any relationship anyway. Whatever you can give, offer, but don’t over promise.
So what we have done was to go back to them to say, ‘look, we have been together before, you are used to us and you know what we can do. So we are ready to give you exactly that and even improve on it.’ We backed that up by commencing payment of claims. We still have some few claims to pay but there is no doubt whatsoever that for us to have frontally cleared over N700 million claims, we can clear all. It sends the message to the market and the market has positively responded to that by patronising us in return. So we have tried to use that to stabilise our sales and income.
Also, we looked at our process, and streamlined it to make sure that there are no loopholes or gaps in the system. Every slack has been tightened and we eliminated any area of waste in the system. So when you do that you minimise your cost and you have tried to stabilise your income or at least keep it going and what you will have eventually is profit. So it is just simple management logic that we have applied that has brought us to this modest result that we are beginning to experience now. We are paying all outstanding claims now, though it is a process. If you have inherited something due to some few years of delay here and there, you need time to clean it up and we are doing that. By the special grace of God before the year runs out all those claims will be settled.
What assurance are you giving to stakeholders that this positive trend will be maintained?
For us, we believe we have a platform to further express ourselves and we are coming back with renewed commitment to reposition the company and render better service delivery going forward and make it a delight to all our stakeholders. We have shown seriousness and commitment to paying claims which is the essence why we are in business because we believe that any insurance company that is worth its salt should be seen to be paying claims. If you are not, then there is no need for you to be in the business at all.
We have also restored positive engagement with our customers to understand what we are doing and how best we can service them. We are working on our processes to streamline our ability to service customer quickly in a very fast and agile manner. We have strengthened our technology that will empower us to be able to interact with all our customers and we are working on new products to create more value for clients.
We have been able to submit our financial result on time after defaulting for some years now because first and foremost we are a public company and the post listing requirement of all public companies is prompt rendition of accounts as well as holding annual general meetings. Between 2002 and 2009 when the company was listed we were one of the major companies in the insurance sector and also one of the listed companies that led in that compliance.
We have won the president merit award of the Nigerian stock exchange while on another occasion we were nominee for the award, which means as a management we were focused on compliance. So in the last six years, for one reason or the other, the company was not able to adhere to this.
But once we came in, our focus was to get the company back to that situation. So we have tried to address that and for the first time in the last four years, we are going to have our AGM in September. We are hoping that by next year we will have our AGM in April or May. So, we motivated our staff, organise our record keeping properly to be able to give stewardship right on time and increase more value for the business. It is even in our interest to release our financials on time because we are focused on growing our bottom-line.