Veteran insurance broker, Bola Azeez, is always up for a challenge. With Funmi Ajumobi, she discusses the nuances of practicing insurance in an insecure and volatile market.
You have so many books on your shelf, do you read a lot?
Readers are leaders. The more you read, the more awareness you have. Reading helps a lot to developmental and emotional stability. I have read over 150 motivational books.
In Nigeria right now, there are a lot of issues surrounding instability, insecurity, etc. Following the EndSARS protests, so many things were destroyed and I’m sure some of your clients would be involved. Who picked up the insurance bills?
The issue of insecurity in Nigeria is affecting everyone and it cuts across every business. The insurance people are most affected because we are the risk bearers for people that insured their property, lives, etc. In case of death, fire incidents, the insurance company would have to pay. A lot of property was damaged and there were huge claims, but our insurance companies are meeting up.
As insurance brokers, we are an intermediary. We mediate between the insurance public and insurance companies. We source for the business, place it with insurance companies and defend the insurance public when there is a claim. So we act as a lawyer to the insurance public because we know the dos and don’ts; because we understand those policy conditions. We decode it for our clients and we make sure they are paid adequately.
People don’t like to involve themselves in insurance for fear of claim defaults on the part of the companies. What are your views on this?
I am over 30 years in the industry. What a broker does is senior advanced intermediary because we have to register with NICON. We can sue and be sued. You have protection intelligence in case you are unable to pay your clients.
When I started, people called us legalized robbers. The robbery aspect of it was because people collect money and when it is time to meet their own side of the deal, they won’t. Also at that time, the people that were practicing were not well enlightened and they were not developing themselves.
We have a group that enables us to come together to have one voice and also remove the bad ones among us. NICON to check our records. We do annual returns, semi-annual reports etc. What is applicable to underwriters is what is applicable to us.
Clients are more comfortable with a broker because we are able to decode policy documents. It is at the point of claim that you will realise what you have insured is not covered. For instance, during EndSARs, if Strike, Riot and Civil Commotion, SRCC, was not inclusive in your policy, you won’t be able to get any claim. All the vehicles that were burnt and those damaged, if SRCC was not inclusive in their insurance policy, they would not get paid.
On the business side, do we have to pay more now for insurance policies?
In a developing country like ours, you cannot just jack up the rate, people who are still trying to survive will just ignore you.
Despite all that happened during EndSARS, it has not affected rates. It is really affecting insurance companies but what can we do? We just have to continue to be partners in progress.
There are so many areas that insurance companies are not covering in Nigeria. What are your expansion plans for those areas?
There is nothing that can’t be insured. NICON has categorized them. When you are registering, you will be specific on which area you want to focus on. Some insurance companies are strictly handling Life, some focus on General. We now have some composites, which means they can do Life and also General but they can’t do special risks. We also have some that do Life, General and special risks, they can underwrite all. Other insurance companies restrict themselves to what they can handle. For any other one that is not covered, if they can’t cover it as a single insurance company, they come together to insure it. Basically, there is nothing that is not covered.
Like footballers that insure their legs and singers that insure their voices abroad, does insurance in Nigeria do that?
Yes. It just comes with special charges. Anyone we don’t have, we have the Nigeria Insurance Association that looks into it. Kidnapping, bombing now have also been included.
Of all the financial services, insurance is deemed as the most difficult. Why did you choose this career?
You must have a passion before you can market insurance. In banking, people walk in and buy their services. In insurance, people find it difficult to understand. If you have money and don’t have insurance, there will be no peace of mind in case armed robbers come. I would say it is passion. If a father that has a wife and children unfortunately dies, what happens to the family? I have seen widows suffer from their children after the death of the breadwinners. It was like, what do I do to wipe tears from people’s faces. That was the original plan, to do what humanity would see value in. The area that is difficult is when you don’t meet the promises to the people. Banks would retrench anyhow but insurance companies don’t do that. If you have some clients like insurance companies, you don’t want to let them go. I have clients that are 32 years with me and as they move, we are progressing together.
I believe that if you want to make a landmark in life, don’t follow the beaten path. Distinct yourself. I’m not competing with anybody. It is basically to make sure that I am better than yesterday.
What have you done to help other women in this line of business?
In marketing, for women when they go out, they meet a lot of clients trying to take advantage of them. I disabuse their minds. I encourage women to help them develop their career, especially in my office. We do 60:40; 60 women and 40 men. Among the women, I have many of them that didn’t study anything relating to Insurance but, today they are chartered through my encouragement and mentoring. I do that to the male staff too.
Many people would have been successful but because of fear. Many are scared to take up a career like this because of abusive men outside. In fact, it happens in all careers. I discovered that some women are timid, especially when they are like 25 to 30 years old. Their concentration is always on marriage. I always tell them that if I can start from zero levels and I am where I am today, then any woman can get there!