‘I got my breakthrough the day I nearly quit insurance marketing’

By IAfrica
In Nigeria News Feed
Feb 1st, 2014
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Gbadebo Olamerun is the president of the Association of Registered Insurance Agents in Nigeria (ARIAN).In this interview with GBENGA ADERANTI, Olamerun talks about insurance in Nigeria and why he joined the politics of the sector.

At what point did you choose to build a career in insurance?

I came into the insurance industry with a trial mentality. But after about three months, I became convinced with my first commission, which was more than N82, 000 as far back as 1999. It was a great inspiration for me and the propelling power to know that I can earn as much as a bank manager.

Many people are not receptive to insurance in Nigeria. Why did you go into the business?

Very true, the former climate for insurance business in Nigeria was not very favourable. However, the adventure and desire of life pushed me to give it a trial, and today the trial has convinced me, to the glory of God. Without mincing words, insurance business is an emerging market in Nigeria.

You are the president of the Association of Registered Insurance Agents. Why did you take a shot at the politics of the business?

I read in a book that politics is meant for kings while war is meant for warriors. History does not remember warriors but usually remembers kings. However, the king never goes to the battle field. So, I would rather play the politics of my chosen career, which gives me the opportunity to make a change in my little way. Moreover, politics and marketing have a lot of similarities. For me, I don’t see it as politics but marketing on a bigger scale.

What were you doing before you started a career in insurance?

Way back in the late 90s, precisely 1999, I was a young OND graduate exploring the opportunities in the labour market. I did industrial attachment [IT] with an oil and gas company without pay. Two months into my IT, I wasn’t finding fulfillment until a friend of mine introduced me to AIICO Insurance for a marketing job as an agent, and the rest is history.

Are you fulfilled in that profession?

To the glory of God, I am indeed very fulfilled, because at my very young age, I have achieved a lot that other young men my age have not. As we speak, I am the National President of an association that has more than 20,000 members. I am an Agency Manager with American International Insurance Company (AIICO) and I still play in the league of two or more other things which has made me a role model for a lot of my peer groups even in other sectors of the economy. I can say with all sense of humility that there is little or nothing that any young man of my age has achieved that God has not blessed me with.

Do you sometimes feel like quitting?

(Laughs) The journey so far has been very interesting. Yes a few number of times, I have tried quitting this noble profession. Thank God for the good people around me, especially my boss who always says, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” So, at the brink of giving up, I usually remember this quote, which challenges me to give it more push.

I can vividly remember a day I went to prospect in an airline company. After much prospecting, I was very tired and hungry, and I almost gave up, I remember the words of my boss and I went back to the last office, met a number of new clients, and these new clients changed my entire career. Going back to that office was the joker that set my career on the fast track.

How did your parents feel when you told them your intention to go into insurance?

Well, I lost my dad at a very tender age and I was left with my mom who happened to be an SME trader. She did not find it easy paying my school fees during my ND days. When I told her that I got a job from an insurance company, she was neither here nor there. She just believed and prayed for success because there was little or no option available as an alternative.

After two months of my employment, I brought home my first commission worth N82,400, I changed the entire settee in my house, bought a TV and a three-loader Aiwa CD. I also painted the house.

By the next day while I was coming back from work, my mum pointed at me to our neighbours and said, ‘That is my son coming’, and I wondered if I had not been her son all the while?

How was it when you started?

Normal challenges accrue to insurance agency business, which is synonymous to commission only.

How would you describe insurance business in Nigeria?

Insurance business in Nigeria is an emerging market with enormous opportunities. But the perception of the market is gradually gaining momentum, which is increasing insurance penetration in Nigeria and the level of acceptability among the populace. However, we grew up to know that NICON in those days was very influential with strong stakes in many banks such that they determined became the executive directors of some major banks in the 70s/80s. But now the reverse is the case. Banks now owns some insurance companies. For me, it’s a call to more work for insurance practitioners.

Could it be because Nigerians are not receptive to the business?

The early players in the insurance industry played to the gallery, with too many tiny prints that were not well defined which majorly influenced the perception of the industry. The tiny print itself was not the problem, but it lacks the information required for the client to make a decision.

What has been your greatest challenge since you started?

My greatest challenge as an insurance practitioner when I started was the fear of rejection. I hardly could express myself. In fact, my friends usually say that I’m so gentle that if water is poured into my mouth for days, I would not swallow it. I’m not the talking type. Fortunately for me, I found myself in a career where if you don’t talk, you will not make money. Talking became a source of living for me. Today, insurance has groomed me so strongly that I can express myself on any platform.

How did you manage the situation?

Like the saying goes, practice makes perfect, With constant practice, I was able to grow from being timid to building great confidence. Today, I can stand before a great crowd of people to speak. Also I had role models who had made it in life. That was a source of inspiration for me, I always had it in mind that one day I would be better than them.

Would you have done something else if you had not been in the insurance business?

I’ve always liked the financial institution and as a Banking and Finance graduate, I would have been in the banking industry. But fate kept me in this golden career and I’m so proud and grateful to God that I’m privileged to be among the change agents pushing the drive for a better insurance industry.

Tell me about the lowest moment in your life

The lowest moment in my life has always been lack of career drive for a successful agent. The pinnacle of an agent is agency manager. And to God be the glory, in my 30s I have risen to the highest cadre of an insurance agency structure in my organisation. The challenge of what lies ahead has always been a low moment for me. I really can’t imagine being an Agency Manager for the remaining days of my life. I feel life has much more to offer than this.

How do you unwind?

There is a Yoruba adage that says tiakobarenibala, ola o kinya, meaning if you don’t have a wealthy man to relate with, acquiring riches will take a while. Socialising and meeting people are on the top agenda of every top marketer. I usually go to family clubs like the Lagos Country Club where I have a number of friends.

What is your greatest fear?

As we speak, my greatest fear is the sustainability of our motherland, Nigeria, in 2015, because that is what really matters. Every other source of my fears lies in the 2015 election.

Do you think there is a future for insurance in this country?

Yes. There are over 170 million individuals in Nigeria, which means the market for insurance is enormous. However, only 1.7 per cent of the entire population has one form of insurance or the other. Insurance business in the western world is the driver of many great economies. This fact is becoming a reality for insurance practitioners today.

Let’s imagine that out of the 170 million Nigerians, 90 million are uninsured such as minors, the elderly and the unemployed. This means we have only 80 million insurable persons left for the insurance market. And for these 80 million to be insured, let us also imagine that we can only reach half of the said population, which is 40 million. The insurance industry will require a minimum of 200,000 agents out of the unemployed 50 million youths in Nigeria. For the unemployed 50 million youths, employment opportunities have been provided.

Another dimension to the above illustration is the financial input it will generate to the insurance sector. Imagine these 40 million pays N5,000 each per month; that is N60,000 yearly for a simple investment link insurance product. At the end of that accounting year, insurance industry would have got N240 billion, which may exclude premium from the conventional third party and comprehensive auto insurance and other classes of insurance.

The way forward for the insurance sector is to enhance the market to run on its own through some of these incentives, merger and acquisition, promoting micro insurance and creating awareness, increasing the public perception about insurance which has contributed to low penetration. Strong market supervision by the regulatory body will enhance claims settlement, market conduct and improve public perception.

Banking, for us, is not all about making money

—Wema Bank Head of Retail Banking

Banks are adjusting to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) hike in cash reserve ratio (CRR) on public sector deposits from 50 per cent to 75 per cent. Head, Retail Banking, Wema Bank Plc, DotunIfebogun, speaks with COLLINS NWEZE on what the bank is doing to boost its deposit base and build sustainable customer service to boost its balance sheet. Excerpts:

After the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced the hike in cash reserve ratio, what followed was a review of retail banking strategy by most banks. What was your first reaction to this policy and how are you and your team handling it?

As a bank, we were not entirely surprised by the decision. We were actually prepared for it as we had taken a strategic decision to focus on the retail market. The Central Bank’s pronouncements only reinforced our belief and strategic direction. We have always known that public sector funds on which the hike in CRR decision was premised is subject to regulatory hang-ups, which explains why there is limited percentage of public sector funds on our books. We are focused on retail business and the bank is executing the plan across in respect of all our customers.

How would you describe retail banking in the Southwest, especially Lagos where Wema Bank has its strongest presence and patronage?

Wema Bank has its roots in the Southwest, including Lagos by virtue of its formation in 1945. This explains our strong presence and patronage in the location. We were and still the only bank in many locations for so many years.

From our records of relationships, there is hardly any known individual, group, union and even corporate organisation that has not had banking relationship with Wema. A great number of these relationships have remained with us. We are also adding new ones. While leveraging this legacy of sustained long standing relationships, we are acquiring new customers across segments.

One segment that cannot be ruled out in retail business is that of the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). How has the bank been able to balance lending with deposit mobilisation in this segment of the market?

This remains an interesting segment. For us, lending to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) is premised on clear understanding of their needs, which often times vary with their lines of business. An important factor for a typical MSME in choice of bank is the flexibility of account products.

Not only are we close to many locations where the micro, small and medium businesses operate, we are big enough to accommodate their various needs and small enough to touch base with each business peculiarities. Over the years, we have nurtured various small businesses within Nigeria to medium level and big businesses and we intend to continue doing that because we believe that this segment of individuals or businesses is the lifeline of the economy.

What products and services are helping the bank to achieve these objectives, and what makes them stand out from the crowd?

Wema Bank has many attractive products for the various retail market segments. It is our belief that quick, accessible, efficient and e-banking services are critical to them due to the nature of their businesses. In this regard, we have invested heavily in technology infrastructure to support robust services to these key market segments.

In 2011, we became the first Sub-Saharan African bank to migrate to the latest FINACLE 10.2 core banking application, which has in no small way boosted service delivery across our in-branch and e-banking platforms. If you recall, we were also the first bank in 2010 to develop a robust mobile banking platform that allowed customers to send money to Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) for withdrawals without a debit or credit card. Today, we still remain one of the banks that can do inter-bank transactions via our mobile app, WemaMobile, which is available on most telephone devises.

For our retail customers, we also have very robust account products. The regular savings account has variants like the Wema Treasure Account, a hybrid savings account that allows you to lodge cheques and dividend warrants in addition to issuing cheques to third parties for payment at any Wema Bank branch. With this, a typical small business owner can operate with convenience – pay in cheques and issue counter cheques.

There is also the target saving variant which enables you to save an affordable amount monthly towards an event. This is a secured and rewarding option for the customer seeking a disciplined savings plan. For all the savings products, we operate a rate band that pays higher interest as the amount increases. Hence our savings account gives good interest.

What is the bank’s strategy on growing its current account base?

Aside the regular current accounts, we have accounts specifically designed for the small businesses named MyBusiness Account (MBA). This is a zero commission on turnover (COT) account and it’s in three variants defined by the customers business turnover – Bronze for N5 million range, Silver for up to N10 million and Gold for N40 million range. The customer only pays a monthly flat charge attached to the variant of MBA opted for.

The choice of variant is made by the customers, prompting the name MyBusiness Account. It is simply the customers’ choice of the account variants that suits his kind of business. All MSMEs also have the opportunity to enjoy Wema Bank cash-flow lending package to boost their working capital and other financial needs of their business.

We can accommodate other trading records to determine customers’ suitability for lending purposes. An MSME only needs to demonstrate its viability as a business by running its account for a minimum of three months with Wema Bank and we shall avail him five multiples of the average turnover generated as long as the customer can meet our terms and conditions.

Wema Bank is one of the legacy banks that have stood the test of time. What in your view has kept the bank standing for over five decades?

The loyalty of our customers, support of stakeholders and our culture of creating, nurturing and delivering value-adding, mutually beneficial relationships irrespective of status has stood us apart and helped us remain a viable business over the years. It isn’t uncommon to see organisations in business relationships with their customers just to make money but we go a step further to become a part of their lives – a partner, because we believe that genuine relationships are a commitment for life.

How has your experience over the years helped in managing this new role and what drives you to succeed?

This is my third year in Wema Bank out of my 20 years of banking experience. I have played different roles in the operation and mostly commercial divisions of the banking industry.

In all my other roles I had the opportunity of engaging with customers across all segments of the economy which provided me with a dynamic view of customer needs and expectations of banks and banking services.

My passion for providing solutions to customer needs is my driving force. Interestingly the customers in this sense include both internal and external stakeholders. Having had roles in both operational and relationship management functions, I understand what is required to serve the customer out there by both the back office staff and the relationship managers out on the field.

This experience is applied in crafting suitable products and processes at every stage of our interface with the retail segment customers.

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