It is either one shies away from facing off challenges or knows that cutting losses is the best option to avoid creating more losses in attempting to improve the asset’s performance. Whichever way one sees Gaffar Hassam, he is not afraid make a big decision. KABELO ADAMSON reports
Holding 80 percent of the country insurance market, Botswana Insurance Holdings Limited (BIHL) now has to dig in and defend the turf, moreso with new competitors coming up.
The insurance group which encompasses three segments under its umbrella being; Botswana Life Insurance Limited (BLIL), Botswana Insurance Fund Management (BIFM) as well as BIHL SURE!, which oversees a subdivision of Legal Guard.
The group has been posting impressive results for past financial years while as of the latest results it saw its profits after tax reach P238 million.
Today BIHL is one of the fastest growing by market share and value with market capitalisation of above P3 billion.
This week Gaffar Hassam, the Chief Executive Officer of BIHL opened up to this publication about the secret behind the group’s surging performance. His ambition when he was elevated to the top position back in the December of 2011 was simple.
“My drive was to ensure that the BIHL Group continued to deliver value to the shareholder through sustainable performance, continue being an innovative business and extending our product offering at the same time providing good customer service,” he points out.
Today Hassam looks back into the journey which was always guided by principles, and is proud that he has delivered to the satisfaction of the shareholders.
Hassam, who joined BIHL in 2003 through its subsidiary, Botswana Life as its Finance Manager prior to being appointed to the position of the group CEO in December 2011, says it has not been easy to achieve what has been attained so far and to sustain the momentum.
Though at the moment BIHL finds itself as one of the most growing entities posting impressive financial results year after another, it was not always bed of roses for the insurance market leader.
“The main challenge is to keep customers satisfied; to achieve this there is constant improvement in our operations.” Hassam says the group has maintained and grown its market share as evidence by the financial results of the years.
In a bid to improve efficiency, the group has adopted a five-year strategy to provide navigation for a five-year period about approaches of growth coupled with efficiencies.
The pillars are: Market share protection and Growth; New Investments; Group Synergies; Operational Efficiencies and People.
Of the many challenges that somehow pose a threat to BIHL is the emergence of new industry players in the market. However, Hassam sees this as a positive development that will propel his group to aim higher and constantly come up with new innovations that will retain BIHL market share.
“We believe that competition is healthy in any business environment. It ensures that we give our clients the best possible services while at the same time creating greater value for our shareholder,” he says.
Since taking over, Hassam says it has been a fulfilling journey and rewarding with much focus on clients’ needs that are constantly changing.
“Working with highly professional and committed staff team makes the journey worthwhile,” says Hassam.
Hassam, the 39-year-old Malawian, says having reached the top, now the challenge is to remain there. “Our focus has always been defending our market share, that I am proud the BIHL team has done just that,” he said.
Botswana Life, according to Hassam, has been the largest contributor to BIHL financial performance while other subsidiaries such Bifm have also continue to perform well.
Going forward, Hassam says BIHL will continue on its strategic path of seeking new opportunities for diversifying its offering in the financial services sector while at the same time protecting and enhancing its existing businesses.
He sees the establishment of a regulatory body, Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFIRA) as a positive development to the industry, saying the relationship between them and NBFIRA is the perfect one.
“The presence of a regulator such as NBFIRA helps us as an industry grows in a positive impactful way, ensuring best practice across the board and client’s interests are protected,” Hassam explains.
As a strategy to remain at the top, BIHL has taken a decision to do away with non-performing components to avoid diluting the group’s financial performance. This resulted in the selling of general lines book to another insurance company, Botswana Insurance Company (BIC).
The general lines book was contained under BIHL Sure! together with Legal Guard, which is said to have started showing signs of improvement.
Explaining the sale of general lines book, Hassam says the decision to offload the business was due to low performance posted by the sector over the few years without showing any signs of upgrading.
He also rebutted suggestions that selling of the general lines book to BIC is an indication that BIHL is on the verge of taking over BIC operations.
“In accordance with the requirements of a listed entity as BIHL, you will be advised should there be any significant transaction.”
The decision, according to both parties, was concluded after taking into consideration clients’ needs which will ensure that highest standards in regards to continued service delivery and product quality are maintained through BIC’s service delivery model.
An MBA graduate from Oxford Brookes, Hassam says, he would want to leave behind a profitable group with client focused solutions when he vacates the seat.
Hassam, who describes himself as an avid cyclist, started his career in Malawi with Pricewaterhousecoopers, an auditing firm before being transferred to the local branch.
Hassam would later assume the positions of Head of Finance and Actuarial services, Chief Operating Officer, Group Finance and Operations Officer all at Botswana Life.