Upping the ante: Continental Reinsurance continues to expand

Continental Reinsurance is the largest local reinsurance company in Nigeria. The pan-African reinsurer is headquartered in Lagos, operates in more than 35 African countries, and has expanded its regional footprint with offices in Cameroon, Kenya and Cote D'Ivoire.

Pan-African reinsurer Continental Reinsurance is ambitious.

In the last 12 months the Nigerian reinsurance company has opened a new office in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, and converted its regional office in Nairobi to a full-fledged company having been granted a license to operate in Kenya.

"Continental Reinsurance has been doing business in Kenya since 2009, but the growing demand for reinsurance products saw us go to a fully-fledged company," says CEO Femi Oyetunji (pictured). "It is an important market."

That's not the end of the African expansion.

The company expects to have its office in Tunisia back up and running by the end of the quarter and will launch a Southern African operation some time soon.

So what's the secret?

"2012 was a good year," he explains. "We moved into new territories and we opened a new office in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, to strengthen our underwriting operations in Francophone West Africa. We also incorporated a subsidiary in Kenya in Nairobi – it is a fully licensed Kenyan office.

"We now have three branches outside Nigeria - Douala in Cameroon, Nairobi and Abidjan - and we have plans to open more branches in the near future to improve service to clients.

"Things are looking good. We have a solid balance sheet and we've embedded enterprise risk management, which is really driving the business forward."

Dr Oyetunji became CEO in January 2011 and has helped put Continental Re on a stronger footing.

"What we have put in place in Continental Re is strict enterprise management framework," he says. "The company is a pan-African reinsurer, and what we want is to demonstrate our commitment to our market - Africa.

"We believe we have to keep African premium as much as possible within Africa. So, for us in Continental Reinsurance, our ambition, which is in line with our vision, is to truly become the premier pan-African reinsurer."

It would seem the company is heading in the right direction.

"So far it has been positive," Oyetunji says.

In a first for Nigeria (and indeed Africa as a whole, South Africa excluded) Continental Reinsurance has signed the UN Environmental Programme Finance Initiative's Principles for Sustainable Insurance, a principles-based global framework to manage environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities in the insurance business.

According to Oyetunji it is a huge step in the "right direction" and means Continental Re is committed to integrating environmental, social and governance issues into its core business strategies and operations, and to implementing the principles across all fields of work.

"That is what we are doing," he says. "As a reinsurer, we are in the business to protect people in the long-term. I am therefore very proud we've taken this route."

It demonstrates Continental Re's adoption of sustainable insurance aims, accountability, and transparency to the public in managing environmental, social and governance issues.

It provides a "solid platform for the future".

"As I said, we want to expand and to do that well you have to act in an orderly manner," Oyetunji says. "It is very important. Our plan is to strategically grow the business throughout the continent, with energy and life insurance as two key growth opportunities.

"Our policy is to concentrate on Africa. We are expanding because we believe that reinsurance conducted at a pan-African scale is in the best position to offer clients stability, longevity, innovations and more tailored service that is more responsive to market conditions.

"We are already working in more than 35 countries in Africa with our three strategic offices, and more are planned. Africa is interesting to us in particular because it has one of the lowest insurance penetration rates in the world, excluding South Africa, and very fast growing economies. Africa in general is full of opportunities and we are targeting that.

"Our services are driven by our new corporate philosophy of sustainable trust."

To help it articulate the pan-African strategy and to communicate the fact that it is a responsible reinsurer, Continental Re has enlisted the help of Gong Communications, a specialist brand agency.

Oyetunji says the move has "assisted in branding across Africa" and that the task was such that "professionals were needed to communicate effectively and consistently across the continent".

Does he expect a bright future?

"I do," Oyetunji stresses. "One important thing is that we are committed to our shareholders and we are committed to rewarding them with dividend and good returns on their investments.

"We aim to project ourselves as a pan-African reinsurer as we focus on expanding our presence in line with our five-year strategic plan. Our transformation isn't complete. Before I became CEO, the business recapitalised, and we have focused on a 'back to basics' approach, looking to offer outstanding service, the right packages, and getting the fundamentals right, while driving international best practice through the business in the shape of enterprise risk management.

"As we grow we will sustain what we have done and improve at various levels.

"We believe we can be the premier pan-African reinsurer, we have a good track record, working to international best practices.

"This is a transitional year for Continental Re when all the various initiatives of the past few years will come together."

Continental Re first began operations in 1987. It was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2007 and is rated B+ (Good) by AM Best for financial outlook, credited for robust risk-adjusted capital.

Its product mix includes a full range of treaty and facultative reinsurance services.

To learn more visit www.continental-re.com.

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