Gabon's life insurance segment offers strong potential

Despite its small population, Gabon has a relatively large insurance market, thanks in part to its high per capita income. The industry contracted in 2015 on the back of the drop in oil prices, but the prospects for the sector’s long-term development, particularly the life and micro segments, are strong. Plans to raise mandatory capitalisation levels across the Inter-African Conference of Insurance Markets (Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d’Assurance, CIMA) zone are also set to spur the creation of larger local companies better able to take on major risk.

Market Size

Gabon is the third-largest market in the 14-member CIMA zone, behind Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, with total premiums of around CFA119bn (€178.5m) in 2015. This represented a 2% year-on-year (y-o-y) decline and was equivalent to 1.4% of GDP. Non-life premiums stood at approximately CFA101.5bn (€152.3m), 85.3% of total national premiums and down 1.8% y-o-y. Life premiums totalled CFA17.6bn (€26.4m), down 3% y-o-y.

The fall in premiums was due in part to a national economic slowdown resulting from the fall in the price of crude oil, Gabon’s major export and source of government revenues. GDP fell by 13% in nominal terms over the year. Wilfrid Midongo, director of non-life and health coverage at Ogar, told OBG that the market remained promising, and that his firm is seeking growth of 10% in 2016. “The market has potential, especially the retail side,” he said, citing the rapid expansion of the country’s middle class.

Sector Players

At the end of 2015 there were six major insurance companies active in Gabon, including two groups – Ogar and NSIA – with life and non-life units that operate as separate firms, as well as a reinsurer. In 2016 two existing firms also received permission to launch new units in the life and non-life markets, respectively. Gabon’s Ogar Group was the largest provider by premiums in 2015, with combined life and non-life business of CFA38.3bn (€57.5m) for a market share of 32.6%, according to the Gabonese Federation of Insurance Companies (Federation Gabonaise des Sociétés d’Assurance, FEGASA). Next were NSIA Assurances Group on CFA19.94bn (€29.91m) and Saham Assurance on CFA19.92bn (€29.88m), with market shares of 16.75% and 16.74%, respectively.

The other companies active in the sector are local firm Assinco, which provides non-life only and registered total premiums of CFA17bn (€25.5m) in 2015; Axa Gabon, which is also only active in non-life and had a 2015 turnover of CFA16.2bn (€24.3m), and Sunu Assurances (a unit of regional conglomerate Sunu), which in 2015 only provided life insurance and had a turnover of CFA7bn (€10.5m).

In April 2016 the regulator awarded operating licences for life firm Saham Assurance Vie Gabon and Sunu Assurances IARD Gabon, a non-life unit of Sunu, as part of a move to licence seven new firms across the zone. There is room for such newcomers. Patrick Mabika, secretary-general of FEGASA, told OBG that – aside from certain segments, such as car insurance – the market is not overcrowded, limiting competitive pressure on margins. “Gabon is fortunate to not have too many insurance firms,” he said.

Reinsurance

The country also has a reinsurer, Société Commerciale Gabonaise de Reassurance (SCG-Re), in which the Gabonese authorities have a share of 69% via two state-owned entities; domestic insurance firms hold the remaining 31%.

Created in 2012 as part of a government drive to boost insurance retention, SCG-Re accepted reinsurance premiums of CFA12.4bn (€18.6m) in 2014, up from CFA8.6bn (€12.9m) in 2013, and had a claims ratio of 22%. Gabonese firms are obliged to cede at least 10% and 15% of life and non-life premiums, respectively, to SCG Re. “If smaller risks are pooled together they provide an opportunity for growth. The concept of cooperatives in the agriculture or artisanal sectors is interesting for insurers,” Judicael Mawi, deputy director of SCG-Re, told OBG.

Non-Life

As in many emerging markets, car insurance, which is mandatory for owners, is the largest non-life line, with 2015 premiums at CFA27.8bn (€41.7m), 23.4% of total industry premiums and down 8.3% y-o-y. The largest player in the segment in 2015 was NSIA, with premiums of CFA7.2bn (€10.8m), equivalent to a market share of 25.9%. The market is affected by heavy competition on price but this may be set to change, as FEGASA is putting in place new requirements to prevent unfair competition through artificially low tariffs, which Mabika said would take around two years to have an effect. There are also plans to create a fund to provide cover for damage and injuries caused by uninsured drivers, which the authorities say should be in place by 2017.

The only other compulsory form of coverage – transport – is the next-largest line, with a 19.8% market share. Transport is followed by health, with a 18.6% share, and fire, with 12.6%. The latter market has traditionally been characterised by very high claims ratios due to factors such as poor maintenance and a lack of firefighting resources.

The largest of Gabon’s five non-life insurers in 2015 was Ogar, with segment turnover of CFA30.2bn (€45.3m), or 29.8% of non-life premiums. The firm is particularly active in transport cover, which accounted for 48% of its premiums. Saham followed with CFA19.9bn (€29.9m) and NSIA was third with CFA18bn (€27m). Mabika does not expect major growth in non-life. “Non-life seems saturated,” he told OBG. “Infrastructure is being rolled out but most construction insurance is not at the local level as contractors have agreements with the government allowing them to be insured elsewhere.”

Life

Capitalisation products were the largest life branch in 2015, with premiums of around CFA9.8bn (€14.7m), for a total insurance market share of 8.2%, while death insurance premiums stood at some CFA6.6bn (€9.9m), or 5.6% of the national insurance market, and mixed business at CFA1.16bn (€1.7m). Ogar’s life unit Ogar Vie was the largest of the firms active in the segment in 2015, on premiums of CFA8.6bn (€12.9m), or 48.9% of life turnover, ahead of Sunu with CFA7bn (€10.5m) and NSIA Vie on CFA1.9bn (€2.9m). “Life will see strong growth over the next five years, as factors pushing economic development will help with the emergence of socioeconomic classes that will want complementary life insurance,” Mabika told OBG.

Microinsurance

Since 2012, CIMA has had a regulatory framework for the sale of microinsurance products, defined in the zone as having a maximum monthly premium of CFA3500 (€5.25). Despite this and the low penetration rate of conventional insurance, the segment remains underdeveloped in Gabon, though at least one firm – Axa – has a microinsurance licence. “The potential for microinsurance and micro life is very high, especially in light of the rapid development of mobile communications,” Midongo told OBG, explaining that in some other countries on the continent, around 90% of microinsurance premiums were made via mobile payments. “Penetration in the conventional life market is low and there are huge needs in insurance, savings and retirement products that microinsurance products could meet,” he said. However, greater clarity is needed around regulations on mobile payments.

Regulatory Issues

In April 2016 the CIMA Council of Insurance Ministers decided that the minimum capital requirement for all insurance firms operating in the zone would be raised from CFA1bn (€1.5m) to CFA5bn (€7.5m). The requirement became effective immediately for new firms, while existing companies are obliged to raise their capital to CFA3bn (€4.5m) by 2019 and to the full amount by 2021. The main aim of the changes is to create more resilient and better-capitalised companies that can fulfil their engagements, something many firms in the CIMA area have struggled to do. While this has been less of an issue in Gabon, the change will nonetheless have a major impact on the country’s insurance sector, principally by bringing about consolidation.

Midongo noted that Ogar – the largest firm in the country by premiums – currently had a capitalisation level of CFA2bn (€3m). “Even larger companies will have to raise substantial capital. The impact will be broadly positive, as it will ensure that the market is made up of well-capitalised firms,” Midongo said. The creation of new, larger companies as a result of the capital requirement hike could lead to local firms capturing a larger share of major insurance contracts such as those issued by the oil and gas industry, much of which is currently covered abroad.

In April the council also decided to introduce new requirements requiring companies seeking reinsurance for certain categories of risk, including car and multi-risk fire and home insurance, to use reinsurers based in the CIMA zone. The aim is to boost retention rates in the zone, while limiting the changes to areas where local reinsurers have sufficient capacity.

Distribution

Brokerages, of which there are 19 in the country, are an important distribution channel in Gabon. Midongo told OBG that 68% of Ogar’s turnover comes from brokerages, and the rest from agencies. However, he said the company was focusing on developing its agency network. “Brokers are better suited to capturing business for large accounts but these have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, leading to narrower margins, so our current main objective is to develop the retail market,” he told OBG, adding that the firm is also working on the development and launch of bancassurance and microinsurance products. Mobile phones are also emerging as a distribution channel; in August 2015 Axa and Gabonese mobile operator Airtel finalised an agreement allowing for Axa clients to pay their insurance premiums and receive indemnifications via Airtel’s mobile money platform.

One further issue is that there is a shortage of investment opportunities for Gabonese insurance firms due to the low level of development of local capital markets, as well as regulatory restrictions. A lack of investment vehicles on the regional financial market means that firms are reliant on banks and government bonds, whose rates are considered less attractive. Investing in shares is permitted but restricted by various ceilings.

Outlook

Despite the contraction in Gabon’s insurance market in 2015 the industry is set for growth, particularly in the life segment, as the economy diversifies and a local middle class emerges. New distribution channels such as the internet and mobile payments should also help drive expansion. Meanwhile, the hike in capital requirements is set to reduce the number of players, which will result in better-capitalised firms in an improved position to capture major corporate risks and could help reduce pressure on margins in highly competitive segments.

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The Report: Gabon 2016

Banking & Financial Services chapter from The Report: Gabon 2016