Bernard Asso Abouo, Managing Director of La Loyale Group in Côte d’Ivoire, discusses the evolution of the insurance industry in the country
Over the past few years, there has been strong growth in the insurance sector in Cote D’Ivoire, which is a very competitive market. How do you explain this outstanding development in insurances in Côte d’Ivoire?
Insurance is a bit of culture, which is the nature of Africa. Here, insurance is akin to solidarity, because the African person and solidarity go hand in hand; that is to say that an African cannot remain indifferent to a problem, he will try to provide assistance as well as he can. Unlike this help that comes after the harm is done, we act through preventive measures: the money you have set aside little by little will help you in case of need. Therein lies all the difference with the African understanding of solidarity. Since the moment we understood this, we have tried to follow the example, because we have been to Europe and all around the world, and this is how it works.
When we created La Loyale, our priority was the culture of insurance, how to make Ivorians understand it. Earlier you spoke of “Yako”, which is a product for funerals and deaths. But originally in the language, when you say Yako, it means that the person empathizes with your problems. So instead of saying funeral insurance, we have decided to say Yako, and the whole population identified and agreed with this. We tried to adjust the French model to Côte d’Ivoire; with this in mind, we have translated almost all our products in native Ivorian languages, while translating their meaning.
Apart from “Yako”, we also have a product called “Cobana”, derived from the Malinké language, an ethnicity from the north of Côte d’Ivoire, which means “The problems are over”. Whenever you have any kind of domestic issue, Cobana is the solution; it is a sort of full service that handles any problem within a household, and which compels people to insure their homes.
Today, we also have products that we call “small business”. Little by little, we help them understand the necessity of having insurance. Before, when an insured motorist had an accident and that we were slightly late with our payment, he immediately called us thieves. It should be remembered that this money is not ours but that of the community’s, and we can’t spend it without verifying the truth of the facts, to be sure of it.
We had to thoroughly explain this for them to understand. The supervisory authority binds us to make investments in banks or government bonds in order to fund actions, or to buy stocks to achieve a return on investment: it has a lot to do with the money we receive. All the urban development works carried out in our cities and towns, we have to explain to our customers that the money they save is in part used for these works.
Today, thanks to these works, going into town becomes easier. Besides, when you go to the bank to borrow money, it is the money of your savings which hasn’t been used to cover your accident that is loaned to you. We went as far as telling them that if you are insured and you have an accident, you contribute in a way to the economy, because the car broken down will go to a shop, the mechanic will see his revenues increase and will be able to pay his staff; this is part of the development of the country. These are things that are already part of the daily life of Europeans; we must now instil this culture in Africans and Ivorians, and thankfully they have started to understand. For this purpose, we have established the automobile guaranty fund that inspects vehicle insurances with the assistance of the police, and those that are not in compliance face being punished to the full extent of the law.
Does this mean there is a true partnership between the police and the insurers?
It is an authentic partnership signed in due form with the Ministry of the Interior and of Security, and the Management of Insurances. We have created a guaranty fund to check that everyone is insured because there are still people who have vehicles and that’s it. Imagine a person who is not insured and has an accident, and unfortunately kills two or three people, who do you think will take care of him? It is for this reason that the guaranty fund exists, to avert the blunders of a random motorist not insured who takes flight. The police also carry out all these checks to ensure that there are no vehicles without insurance. Everyone must be insured; when this is not the case, you are first asked to get insurance, and when you reoffend, you may receive a few months in prison.
It is therefore a culture that is being created, we had spoken with the Minister Nialé Kaba who said that there will be a rather important growth in the market, soon reaching 7% of the GDP. With this growth, what are specifically the goals and priorities for you?
We are targeting all the sectors, especially the most important ones. There is for example agriculture, and on this level we still have a slight weakness, although in the past we had created a state structure specifically for this. Today with the liberalisation, it is not a sector that is insured enough. Today, there is a young NGO called “jeune au travail” that we assist, to allow unemployed people to obtain farmlands; with agronomists and finance specialists with this mechanism, the profitability is four times higher than the norm.
We are therefore assisting them in this process, allowing them to invest their extra money, the surplus. We had decided with these young people that the surplus would be shared in two parts: one for daily expenses and the other for savings and life insurance which will allow them to have revenues at the end of their career. It is all these things that we are doing for these young people in cities and towns, that often do not have resources or diplomas; but there are also some that are still in this situation with their diplomas. It is a win-win partnership. We are therefore creating a businessman who tomorrow will be able to do twice as much.
Considering you want to internationalise the product, how do you represent this image for external partners to understand the meaning of La Loyale, and what is the power of La Loyale to attract investors?
We cannot start and grow at the same time, you always need someone to support and assist you; there is always a model. I take the example of politicians, who must understand that it is their vision of development that will guide others to follow them. If this politician has a good vision of things, others will necessarily follow him; this is the image of La Loyale, and it is the image of the child grabbing the hand of the father.
We have taken a great leap forward with insurance in Côte d’Ivoire. When the airline Air Afrique went bankrupt, many agents could not be compensated, and it was a big problem here because we could not pay them. Considering this, we reflected upon it and created a product for all insurers. In the accounting mechanism, a company must anticipate the retirement of its agents by creating a retirement plan.
Earlier you spoke about this increase in foreign investment, the State is creating favourable conditions to attract investors. How does La Loyale prepare to obtain potential partnerships?
At La Loyale, we have set up a network called Globus, in which we worked with English people because this forced us to have financial ratings. For example, we noticed that big investors are coming to Africa to invest; they invest in stock exchanges in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Congo, and a bit everywhere. In their investments, they require an insurance to accompany these investments, and they often resort to using couriers who must travel every time.
We reflected upon this and decided that instead of them having to travel, we would offer a network that we call Globus. They give us details on their projects, what they consider doing, the investment they want to set up, and we conduct the appropriate study through the insurance to allow them to be efficient in every country. In each country, we have a representative and investors who do not have to travel anymore, they won’t have to pay plane tickets. This not only makes them save time but also leads to a cost reduction, and many investors appreciated this.
Côte d’Ivoire is still a quite competitive market, with almost nine companies in the sector. How do you differentiate yourself from them when approaching foreign investors?
Insurance is managing a risk in a way that it does not become an actual problem. But differentiating yourself means innovating, because innovation makes the difference. Unlike someone else who will make you such and such offer, I allow you to have something more, I open other possibilities to you with partners that you could not have found elsewhere. With all these offers, the businessman or customer is bound to be satisfied.
You also have this role of accompanying the investor?
Yes. If the investor does good things, we also have the role of allowing other countries to benefit from this expertise, and in the end, it is the investor who is happy. In La Loyale, it’s absolute loyalty. When we are loyal towards the customer or businessman, he reciprocates this loyalty, and when later he needs his business to be handled, he will necessarily come to us.