For decades, the African economic story has been told by international players and financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and only recently by the EXIM Bank of China.
This has not only robbed ‘Mama Africa’ of her side of the story but also stole her identity as well.
However, African homegrown financial institutions equipped with better understanding of the region and specific challenges which continue to bedevil the continent as well as tailor made solutions are starting to emerge and rewrite the African economic story but more importantly give Africa back her voice.
Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa (BISSA) recently had a chat with Hope Murera (HM), CEO and Managing Director at Zep-Re (PTA Reinsurance Company) on how the company is shaping the future of Africa.
“I have been in this organization for 16 years now and before that I was the working with the National Insurance companies in Rwanda before I joined Zep-Re (PTA Reinsurance Company) and I moved through the ranks to this point today,” Mrs. Murera told Business Insider.
Hope’s background is in law, which explains her undying passion for legal thrillers which she can’t get enough off, and most of her working career has been in the insurance and reinsurance industry.
This interview is part of 'The CEO Series' in partnership with The Africa CEO Forum. Learn more about the event here .
Here is an excerpt of our conversation.
BISSA: How does a typical day at work for you looks like?
HM: Well my work starts from home because of the traffic here in Nairobi, you know I am spending at least one hour sitting on the traffic so I begin by checking and responding my emails. Every day I will spend about 20% – 30% of my time meeting different team members within the organization on a number of different projects that we are working on, another 30% of my time will be spent on stakeholders, clients and talking to my board members and answering calls and then particularly on my own I will be having something I am working on, something like that.
BISSA: So, how did Zep-Ke (PTA Reinsurance Company) came to be?
HM: So, I go back into our name Zep-Re (PTA Reinsurance Company) so Zep is the French acronym of the PTA which was the preferential trade area so we were set up by COMESA member states when they were still called PTA. We kept the French acronym to kind of different ourselves. Our mandate is to improve insurance in the region, a lot of reinsurance premiums were going outside and so the idea was how do we create our own reinsurance capabilities so that the money is invested in the region.
We are also mandated to do trainings, so we have something called the Zep-Re academy where we train across the board technical staffs, reinsurance and insurance, regulators, board members etc. on all the latest trends in the market. We also insure insurance companies because insurance companies need capacity to write the big risks so every insurance company in the region is my client at least in COMESA.
Our Head Office is located in Nairobi but we have our offices across Africa; Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles and the Indian Subcontinent.
BISSA: How does Zep-Re work with governments to improve the livelihoods of Africa?
HM: We are work with governments since one of our mandates is financial inclusion and as you know insurance penetration in Africa is still very low, so we have realized the biggest way to do this is through partnerships with governments because we need governments supports, regulations and legislation. In Rwanda for example we are running an agriculture insurance programme with the government and it has brought into the insurance bracket one million farmers and you are taking abut paying out $5 - $8 million of claims to the farmers so it’s really strengthening that sector.
In Kenya, we are looking at utilizing livestock and agriculture, in Rwanda we are talking about savings so we are bringing in governments to say, look here let’s work together, we are the technical people and we understand we need your support, we need the institutional framework and the right environment to get this to happen.
BISSA: As a regional company operating in multiple African countries what are some of the trends and challenges you keep noticing and experiencing in all your markets?
HM: When we have commodity price crash it affects a number of countries that are mainly dependent on commodity prices so we see that kind of waves, In Zambia when copper prices are up things are good when copper prices are down things are bad, the same is witnessed in Angola and Nigeria where the economy is tied to prices of oil. So, we see all that happening the overdependence on one commodity does impact negatively on the economy when things go down but we are starting to see a lot of diversification happening.
Kenya is more diversified but we had also issue around political violence and elections period elongated, if you see for example in 2017 the industry didn’t grow at all in Kenya so, as a reinsurance company, we follow the economic ups and down.
But all in all, the outlook is good and we are very optimistic and believe Africa is rising, we are sitting on some of the fastest growing markets in the world, the demographics factor is in our favor, we have young people whom their average age is 20 years so that’s amazing but it is also challenging, its scary are we ready for them? So, getting the products that address our demographics will always remain challenging, if you look at mobile penetration and money transfer is really encouraging and it can only get better.
And what is going on at the Africa Continental Free Trade that is something that is also exciting, Africans can look at their problems globally and solve them, create a common market of over 1.2 billion people that would be amazing, so there is so much good that is coming out of Africa, the future is bright for Africa.
BISSA: So, as you have rightfully mentioned that there is so much good coming out of Africa such as the Continental Free Trade Area and Open skies agreement for instance, how is Zep-Re then positioning itself to exploit these opportunities?
HM: If you think about infrastructure which is a big thing for us because most of our premiums comes from that so that is something, we are very passionate about and Africa is opening up in a great way.
We do realize that we need to be on the ground and local in every way especially in member countries, countries that put us there, we need to be a real partner. So, we are talking to the industry to see where we can put our expertise in and we have positioned ourselves as an industry thought leader leading investment conservations and saying so how do we negotiate with the Chinese for example since they look like they will be here for a while and although they do bring in the funding it is actually us that are going to pay so it’s our money.
So, organizing us so that we can look at it globally and bring the industry together, we have started doing the CEOs forums to kind of bring everyone on board to know what is happening, we have one forum coming up in Uganda in 2019 where we are going to have players in the petroleum industry to start talking and say okay so where are we in investment, we do this so that insurance companies can know where to plug in their money.
So, yes, we are positioning ourselves very well and you know insurance and reinsurance is global so it actually fits in into a united Africa and it is very exciting.
BISSA: As an industry thought leader, what are some of the solutions that you have provided to some of the problems that continue to bedevil Africa?
HM: Actually, we are in talks with organizations like Africa50 on how to mobilise funds from the insurance industry to go into infrastructure. Agriculture in Africa is a giant that is now awakening because majority of our people rely on agriculture and it doesn’t have to be a poor man’s livelihood right! So how do you create a whole ecosystem of markets and trading’s so that whenever we have an oversupply of say maize in Zambia the same is brought in to an undersupply in Kenya, so, that is also part of our mandate as a regional body set up by COMESA.
We participate in COMESA member countries and ministers and presidents’ meetings where we give our reports there and so far, it is very exciting.
Digitization of the whole processes including insurance is something that we have actually taken up, we just had hackathon where we brought in young guys to try and clarify other solutions for the insurance industry and it was also a competition so it was very exciting. We are putting up an innovation hub to encourage the young people who are thinking of learning programming to try and create solutions that address the insurance industry in Africa.
If you talk about housing in Kenya which is one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 Agenda, we are also invested in that. we have started an online product with banks whereby we can guarantee 20% for a mortgage because you know when you want a mortgage the banks won’t give you a 100% but if we can guarantee the 20% that the bank needs from you, the bank can give 100% so that is going to open up the market and we are very excited about.