|delegates at the conference|
Insurance professionals from across West Africa recently converged in The Gambia to discuss strategies to clean their industry of unprofessional and unethical insurance institutions and practitioners who are said to be partly responsible for the slow growth and development of the industry in the sub-region.
“Professional and Ethical Behaviour in the Insurance Industry” was the discussion topic at the annual general meeting and educational conference of the West African Insurance Companies Association (WAICA) hosted in The Gambia by the Insurance Association of The Gambia (IAG) from 15 to 17 April at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia.
The discussion was centred on how to root out all those people who are behaving in an unprofessional and unethical manner in the insurance industry.
Speaking on the occasion, the president of the Insurance Association of the Gambia (IAG), said the theme of the conference is indeed interesting and appropriate considering the scale and scope of professional deception and ethical misconduct in the financial system in recent times.
Dawda Sarge reaffirmed that the consequences of bad business practices could very well jeopardize the collective efforts to sustain economic growth, employment creation and poverty alleviation.
The insurance industry continues to be challenged with issues relating to public confidence and trust, he said, adding that one way to reassure society is to prove that an insurance contract is not about buying wind but creating energy.
An insurer’s reputation is enhanced when he meets his obligations under the insurance contract and tarnished when he fails to deliver, noted Mr Sarge.
Insurance market activity contributes to economic growth through financial intermediation, risk transfer and indemnification.
It promotes entrepreneurial activity and economic stability by enabling businesses to operate with less volatility.
Insurance also serves as an important source of long-term finance for initiatives in infrastructure improvements as well as a vector for development.
Despite these attributes, the insurance profession and industry continues to suffer from an image blur, caused in part, by questionable practices and ethical violations.
Mr Sarge says a handful of reasons could be responsible for this state of affairs such as the proliferation of misleading adverts, miss-selling of insurance products by poorly schooled agents, contract ambiguities, unfair claims administration and payouts.
The new WAICA president observes that the long-term profitability and survival of the insurance industry will be at risk if society continues to have dim perception of the professionalism and ethical conduct of insurance practitioners.
“It is, therefore, our interest that we instill customer trust in insurance through the promotion of a culture of fair dealing which should transcend the mere compliance with statutory requirements and global accounting codes like the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS),” Mr Sarge said.
“Fair dealing with customers should be an attitude that springs from ethos and values of our institutions and industry. It should be a culture that puts the consumer first, that is focused on doing what is right and places a high premium on integrity and decency.”
The Gambian insurance guru on the driving seat of the regional insurance body says the insurance profession and industry can be the fulcrum of any financial system by raising practitioners’ awareness and acceptance of professional and ethical behaviour.
Growth of insurance in Africa remains minuscule
The growth of the insurance industry in Africa remains minuscule despite the fact that insurance has been practiced on the continent for more than 100 years.
The First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia, Basirou Njie, says Africa has an insurance penetration of roughly 1%, and less than 10% of the insurable population is actually insured. South Africa alone accounted for 70% of African insurance market.
Notwithstanding, he says, the potential for growth of the insurance industry is huge. “To realize the potential, the industry must offer the right products to the right segments of the market, leverage on technology to increase outreach, explore market consolidation in order to reap the benefits of economies of scale and, equally important, formulate and rigorously implement code of good practices,” said Mr Njie.
Industry crucial in economic development
The insurance industry plays a pivotal role in economic growth and development of a nation; this is due to the fact that the industry helps efforts at sustaining economic growth, employment creation, and poverty alleviation.
Mr Njie pointed out that the health of a country’s insurance industry is closely linked to the health of its economy.
In addition to providing risks transfer services, insurance facilitates trade and commerce, mobilizes savings for investment, and ensures efficient allocation of capital, the CBG’s 1st deputy governor says, telling West African insurance practitioners that the Gambia government is “unreservedly committed” to the development of the Gambia insurance industry.
He said further: “In 2007, the Central Bank of The Gambia raised the regulatory capital of insurance companies. The increase of the minimum capital requirement helped strengthen the risk bearing capacity of the insurance companies in addition to enhancing their ability to underwrite big ticket risks. To protect policyholders and ensure that business is conducted safely and soundly, the industry would continue to be regulated, but in a manner that does not stifle innovation.”
The outgoing president of WAICA, Fatai K. Lawal, succeeded by Mr Sarge, said this year’s conference was very important in the history of the association as it focused on the profession and ethics of the insurance practitioners with a view to sanitizing members of the industry.
He thanked the executive committee of WAICA for the support given to him during his tenure as the president while urging them to give similar support to his successor.
The WAICA annual general meeting and educational conference brought together about 200 insurance practitioners from all English-speaking countries of West Africa – The Gambia, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana – that founded WAICA in 1973.