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Insurers need to be vocal on national issues — Lawal

By on June 23, 2013

Managing Director, Sterling Assurance Nigeria Limited, Mr. Fatai Lawal, has just emerged as President, Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria. He spoke with NIKE POPOOLA on how to make insurance more relevant to the economy

Many years ago, did you ever imagine becoming the CIIN’s president some day? 

First, let me say I feel highly overwhelmed and humbled by my choice as the leader of CIIN. I am quite happy and grateful to God for taking me this far. I least imagined I would go this far when I made the choice to study insurance some 34 years ago. I have heard people say they got into insurance by accident, I will say I got into insurance by divine choice, I didn’t have the opportunity of knowing anybody in insurance before I chose the course while I was in the Advanced Level school. I think it was just customary that most of us who were in that commercial class chose Business Administration, Accounting, but I felt I wanted something different. I did not want to belong to where everybody was. Insurance struck me as an emerging area, and I felt that if I gave it my best, I would have the opportunity to rise in it rapidly. Without any guidance or knowledge of anybody that had been in insurance, I just ventured into it blindly.

How do you intend to handle the lack of cooperation among different groups in the industry? 

CIIN is the unifying force of the industry and I must give kudos to the immediate President, Dr. Wole Adetimehin, for initiating what he called the insurance industry’s consultative forum. Unfortunately, he was not able to inaugurate it before his tenure ended. But he nurtured the idea and started the first session. I will work on it, having served him loyally and diligently for two years. I understand some of his thinking. I am going to step into it and ensure that the forum continues, and that forum will be the clearing house for issues that tend to divide the insurance industry. Under the auspices of CIIN, we have the Nigerian Insurers Association, Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers and Institute of Loss Adjusters Association of Nigeria. With this, CIIN will be coming together on a quarterly basis and sometimes with the Commissioner of Insurance or his representative to discuss industry issues, and where there are problems, we will be able to nip them in the bud. The good thing is that this will be a quarterly event; people will look forward to it; people will plan for it, not something that is done as an ad hoc. People know there is a schedule for it where there are issues that can be cleared at that meeting. Luckily, I was in the NIA when it had a consultative assembly with NCRIB, I was chosen to be the leader of the NIA team and my leadership was accepted by the two groups. By the time we came together for the first time, one of the raging problems was in the area of life commission. I am not a life specialist; I am a manager. We dialogued and reached some level of concession rather than fighting each other. Many issues were resolved between these two bodies through that kind of assembly. Coming under the umbrella of the CIIN, I think I will be able to do a better job.

With the recent approval of insurance in the secondary school curriculum, how do you intend to get teachers for this? 

There are enough qualified people to teach Insurance in secondary schools. What we will do as an institute is to move in. This is why I said the theme of my presidency is to promote insurance education. I am going to work with the Federal Ministry of Education to ensure that the curriculum that has been drawn for that course is adequate. We are going to work with them in the area of providing textbooks, even if it means CIIN editing those textbooks, and making them available so that people can have the right information on insurance. There are quite a number of graduates in Commerce, Insurance, who can teach Insurance. We will also use our relationship with those in the academics to organise short-term courses. That is where our college will be very relevant; we can get teachers who are teaching Insurance in secondary schools. At our own expense, we will train them for one week. Once they can do it well, it is in our interest.

We will not take everybody as a whole; we will try and pick some model schools. In Lagos State, we can pick about five model schools, and use them as springboard. When we get it right from there, we will now transport it to the whole nation.

How do you intend to make insurance more proactive to issues of national interest? 

I think insurance has been a conservative business; we will try and be proactive. We will not wait until rules come out. When we get information, we can dialogue on it before it becomes an issue. For example, next year’s budget, we are going to make a proposal to the government about how insurance can help to enhance the economic development of the country. We will do this before the government starts preparing the budget so that we can serve a useful purpose. Most times, we tend to come after the event and I think this time, we want to be more proactive.

Do you have plans to partner foreign insurance bodies to develop professionalism? 

Let’s first get the local body right. We are silent here; we are not seen in what is happening here. Our voices are not heard in many national issues. We need to first address this and make sure that we are not just quiet, but ensure that on every national issue, we have a thorough view of the matter, take our position and make it known to the government ahead of time. We are going to be visible without being lousy. The obvious partner for the CIIN is CII London. CII London is that internationally recognised institute for professional insurance examination in the world. One of the things I am going to do is to continue the discussion to ensure that we can exchange our certificate for theirs, and that way we can globalise our certificate.

What other plans do you have for CIIN?

I have been involved in the College of Insurance and Management that we started from the beginning. I think I am rightly positioned to ensure that the project gets to a point of reference for the industry. We have completed the first phase of the project. We are on the second phase now; we will ensure that the second phase is delivered, and then, the college becomes available for use.

Also, we have the Victoria Island project of the institute, which has been moribund for about 30 years. Some people will want to avoid challenge if they can. I am not that kind of leader. I believe that if there is a problem, there is always a solution. The solution may be that you need to find out from somebody; or there is one more person to ask; or there is one more book to read; or there is one more thing to learn about solving the problem. We are going to confront it headlong and take a definite position about where we are going about the project. We are not going to leave it and pass it to another generation. This generation must solve that problem.

During my tenure, I also want to get more people interested in serving the institute.

Do you have a social life outside work? 

Yes, I do, like any other person. I play badminton occasionally. I also attend social functions. I try to be at many peoples’ events. It is only in recent times when my body can’t take it that I don’t force it. I am a people’s person. I like people passionately and I try to build relationship. I have been so lucky that the relationships I have built over the years have been long standing, and that has helped me. I think that is the strength that I think I have. I try to love people as individuals not for what I will get from them. I build relationship on trust and mutual respect. Outside work, I enjoy trekking. I love my wife and children and I create time for them. I married a lady that was my childhood friend; so, we know and understand each other. We have God fearing children and that helps.