Challenges for Insurance Companies in West Africa

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The West African Insurance Companies Association has just ended its 36th Annual General Meeting and Education Conference, held at the Monrovia City Hall.

Held under the theme "Modern Technological Advances and the Development of the Insurance Industry in Liberia," the meeting, in a communiqué, focused its attention on the development and effective use of modern technology to facilitate business transactions.  The delegates urged governments as well as insurance companies themselves to make greater use of modern technology not only to improve business transactions, but also to bring customers up to date in interfacing with their insurance companies.

The delegates, who hailed from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, also pledged to encourage product innovation provided by modern technology.

The Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Boima Kamara, gave the insurers some good news when he told them that the Liberian government had made it mandatory that all motor vehicles should be insured.  This should boost the insurance trade.  But it also places tremendous pressure upon insurers to enhance their reinsurance capacity.

One thing we had hoped the insurers meeting in Monrovia would have done was to address the issue of investments.  This, we believe, is a major challenge for Africa's insurance companies.  It is a known fact that these companies make a lot of money.  But what do they do with it?

It is to his credit that one of the newest insurance outfits in Liberia, the Atlantic Life and General Insurance Company, seems to be the only insurance company that has built a big building–a two-story structure in Congotown,  Monrovia.

The company that Urey grew out of, American Life, ran a robust business in Liberia in 1970s, 80s and early 90s.  But they did not put down even a kitchen in Liberia they could call their own.  They were always leasing from somebody.

Neither did the Insurance Company of Africa, which was linked to the International Trust Company (ITC), now International Bank (IB). Liberian law states that insurance companies should invest 50 percent of their profits in Liberia.  But one insurance insider, now retired, who worked many years for American Life, revealed to the Daily Observer that his company, like most of the insurance establishments, spent sizeable amounts on overheads, to the extent that they always declared losses, so they invested nothing in Liberia.

Today, there are many insurance companies in Liberia, and many of them are Liberian-owned.  We believe that many of the companies represented in this week's meeting from English-speaking West Africa are also locally-owned.

We urge all of them to pursue local investment portfolios.  This is how they can contribute to the development of their countries.  That is how insurance companies in other parts of the world, particularly the West, have contributed to national development.

African insurance companies, Liberian ones in particular, should start doing the same thing.  As we strive to shake off the shackles of war and strive to forge ahead in national development, Liberia has many, many challenges that call for serious investments.

The field of tourism is one.  Insurance companies should venture into that avenue and start investing in hotels and resorts along our vast coastline and, in the process, make some money.

We believe American Life and the other foreign insurance companies were shortsighted in their failure to invest in Liberia, and may very well have been part of the problem that contributed to the instability that led us to war.

Let all of us in the business community not make that mistake again. Let us invest locally and help move our country forward.  This much we owe to Liberia and to West Africa.

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