•‘Our insights give us an opportunity to mobilize FDI’
By Olayinka Ajayi
Genevieve Ahinful is the head of Political Risk Insurance at Africa Specialty Risks, ASR, a pan-African (re)insurance group with its head office in London and which aims to establish business development hubs in Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Nigeria. In this interview, the UK-born Ghanaian speaks on the need to rewrite the risk insurance narrative across Africa which has often been misinterpreted.
Can you introduce us to Africa Specialty Risks?
Africa Specialty Risks was established in August 2020, it was founded by Mikir Shah, CEO of ASR and formerly the CEO of AXA Africa Specialty Risks, and Bryan Howett, Chief Finance Officer and formerly the CEO of Old Mutual’s pan-African reinsurance operations.
They created Africa Specialty Risks with the intention to offer a wide range of specialty insurance covers across different lines of business providing companies and investors with a one-stop shop.
ASR currently offers risk mitigating products in a variety of areas of expertise that are particularly relevant to the African continent: we have Political Risk Insurance and Trade Credit, Political Violence and Terrorism, Energy, Construction, Parametric and many other innovative and equally important insurance solutions. The latter reflects our commitment and expertise to cater to the diverse needs of businesses and investors operating in Africa.
Why is ASR focusing on Africa?
I was born in Ghana, my CEO is from Kenya, the top senior management at Africa Specialty Risks have lived and worked in Africa, we have also lived in London and our ambition is fully African. We want to unlock greater and more efficient protections for policy holders, and rewrite the risk insurance narrative across Africa which has often been misinterpreted. We have seen the different challenges African transactions face when they seek insurance capacity from the European market.
So we believe that the difference in the perception of risks in Africa and our African insights gives us an opportunity to help mobilize the credit sector and Foreign Direct Investment to try to close the Africa funding gap. We can do this through supporting banks, by assisting government projects, through supporting finance deployed and ultimately by providing ASR’s insurance expertise as a backstop to all of this. We all know that there is a huge trade finance gap in Africa, but we also know that there is a potential solution in the form of insurance that can help with that mobilization, which is why we want to focus on Africa.
What is ASR’s specific expertise in addressing these issues?
We constantly analyse what is happening in Africa. We travel a lot in Africa. We were recently in Lagos, Ghana and Nairobi, among other places. We are constantly moving around the continent. So we understand not from afar but by being in the country, interacting with our strategic partners to understand the challenges that are out there. You know, there is no better way than being on the ground, constantly responding to the challenges that many African countries are facing. Being in the field provides us with up-to-date information and analysis to help and facilitate decision making.
What makes you different from your rivals?
We all know that Africa is a huge continent, but we pride ourselves on understanding what is happening on the ground. We are not just a company that offers risk mitigation services for projects in Africa, we are first and foremost a company that has local knowledge of the challenges of local and international banks or investors operating in and across the Continent.
We are therefore also open to the dynamics of change in each of the countries we operate in and ensure that the information we provide is always consistent and up to date. Whilst Africa has lots of challenges, you have to separate the perception of the risk and the reality of risk. I think that is what makes us different.
What do you consider to be the most significant achievements of the organisation?
We have a fully staffed office in Mauritius with an authorized MGA and a fully capitalized and licensed reinsurance company, and received the Insurance Management License from the Mauritius Financial Services Commission.
In addition, we have a licensed and capitalized reinsurance company in Bermuda, ASR Re Limited (Bermuda), which was awarded a long-term issuer credit rating of BBB+ from AMBest in our first year of business. It was quite unusual for AMBest to rate an organization at this level in its first year of operation. They are largest credit rating agency in the world specialising in the insurance industry. So this is our biggest milestone.
The third is our parametric business line. It works with our other lines of business. Parametric is very important because it doesn’t just sell as a product on its own, it integrates perfectly with almost everything, whether it’s weather, liability property, amongst others.
We have also been able to expand our binder capacity in our second year with our existing relationships. In 2021, we wrote business in 44 African countries across eight different lines of business. The PRI&TC team contributed to the de-risking of approximately US$ 3.4bn into Africa in the same year.
How many countries do you operate in Africa?
At the moment, we have an office in London and Mauritius, and a presence in Kenya. We plan to establish business development hubs in other African countries, including Morocco, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Nigeria.
Who are your partners in Nigeria?
Our partners usually are local insurance and reinsurance companies. The reason for that is that we are not here to compete, instead we are here to work with local (re)insurance companies in the corporate and specialty risk mitigation space.
What are you bringing to change the narrative of risk management in Nigeria?
We specialize in areas of insurance not common in the African market. As the African insurance market opens up further, we are bringing our expertise back into our continent tackling the issue of the emigration of skilled nationals from Africa, we know the market, we know how our counterparts assess risks, and we are bringing that knowledge to banks and manufacturing companies with the aim of developing our continent.
How would these products affect the GDP of Nigeria?
The purpose of our products is to contribute to the economic development of the country. If you have a company that exports, the product that we are proposing will encourage them to export more to the wider market and increase their supply chain. In turn, the money will come back to the economy and in the long run, it will contribute to the overall GDP.