Recapitalization– The panacea to the woes of Ghana’s insurance market? – Mr. Justice Yaw Ofori -Commissioner of Insurance, Ghana
In a bid to ensure a robust Ghanaian insurance industry, the National Insurance Commission, NIC, has initiated moves towards recapitalization. The initiative, yet to be officially announced, involves a planned increase in the Minimum Capital Requirement (MCR) for insurance and re-insurance companies by over three (3) fold. The industry regulator has engaged stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation of the exercise which has seen financial analysts draw a parallel with that witnessed in the banking industry last year.
This has prompted questions- some comparative analysis with the banking one as well as questions about its economic significance. The Insurance Commissioner, Justice Yaw Ofori, in an interview with the Vaultz Magazine, gave a detailed explanation of the exercise.
State of the Ghanaian insurance sector
Ghana’s insurance industry has in recent years witnessed a significant growth especially in terms of the number of new entrants recorded. The industry however continues to record low insurance penetration which still hovers around 3%.
The Insurance Commissioner believes this among other issues highlight the need for the industry recapitalization.
“I would say Ghana’s insurance industry is strong despite the challenges with respect to recapitalization. The market is still virgin and there are a lot of areas which are untapped and that is why we see foreign companies coming into Ghana to do business. The oil sector is booming and so is agriculture as well as inclusive insurance and all we need to do is to make sure companies are well capitalized so far as they want to operate in Ghana” Mr. Ofori stated.
According to the NIC’s annual report, Return on Equity (ROE) for insurance companies has consistently been less than the corresponding year’s prevailing treasury-bill rate with the overall picture worsening year on year especially for life insurance companies. Mr. Ofori attributes this to the tendency for investors to choose high-yielding financial instruments over insurance which is a relatively long-term investment option.
“I think it’s all because people get more returns when they invest their monies in T-Bills and other non-banking financial instruments. For instance, there was a time people were promised 25% to 35% on their investment which was more attractive so they didn’t see why they should invest in other assets like insurance. So some insurance companies were consequently recording underwriting losses” he explained.
The insurance industry has been contributing significantly to Ghana’s economic growth– albeit constantly at less than 2% of GDP through the provision of long-term investment finance to the economy whilst influencing production and consumption, internal and international trade among others.
“Insurance is a vital pillar of every economy. In Ghana for instance, it contributes about GH¢ 5billion in terms of business generated annually. About 12, 500 people earn a living directly from the industry and many more indirectly such as lawyers, doctors, carpenters, masons, and mechanics. Without insurance you can’t get bank loans because they need some kind of guarantee that they can recoup their money in the event of default”.
Insurance recapitalization– the facts and figures
Following its engagement with stakeholders including brokers and shareholders alike, the NIC has proposed an increase in the Minimum Capital Requirement (MCR) for life and non-life insurance companies from the current GH¢ 15million (approximately US$ 3million) to GH¢ 50million approximately US$ 10million).
Re-insurance companies will also see their MCR reviewed upwards from GH¢ 40million (approximately US$ 8million) to GH¢ 125million (approximately US$ 25 million) while that of brokers will be increased from GH¢ 300,000 (approximately US$ 60,000) to GH¢ 500,000 (approximately US$ 100,000).
“We came about these figures by taking into consideration how much a company would need to break even and stay profitable. We realized it will take 4 to 6 years for a newly established insurance company to break even with GH¢ 50 to GH¢ 60 million capital” the Commissioner noted.
The last time the market underwent recapitalisation was in 2015 and this was pegged against the dollar with an initial plan of an annual increment which after a considered review, was implemented differently.
“On an annual basis, the minimum capital was supposed to be adjusted to reflect inflation but it has not been done for about 4 or 5 years. But even if we had those increments, the current minimum capital would have been around GH¢ 25million which is about half what we are proposing now because Ghana’s economy is not like it was about 10-15 years ago; it’s bigger now” he stated.
In 2017, about three (3) companies reportedly had challenges meeting the then minimum capital requirement of GH¢ 15million. Mr. Ofori confirmed this as a normal industry development.
“It’s always been so in every insurance industry. There are times that companies will have challenges meeting the minimum capital but that does not mean that it’s time to shut them down. We, as regulators, try as much as possible to encourage the shareholders to recapitalize because shutting down an insurance company is not an easy thing and it is the last thing a regulator wants to go through,” he disclosed.
The ultimate goal
The Insurance Commissioner reiterated that the purpose of the recapitalisation was to ultimately grow the industry to the benefit of the economy by protecting the interest of the policy holder.
“Following our stakeholder engagements, we’ve done our concept paper which has been reviewed by the board. We’ve explained to stakeholders, the rationale behind the calculation and of course not everybody is going to like it but at the end of the day, we want the best for the industry. The Commission is not interested in closing any entity but rather building a strong market that takes care of the interest of the policy holder,” Mr. Ofori stated.
“Our economy has also grown. The GH¢ 15million was implemented some years ago. Now we have the oil boom and the country is losing so much revenue, we are actually sending money out because our companies are not financially strong to take much of the risks,” he added.
“Over 90% of our risks have to be insured on the international market and these are some of the reasons our cedi is always affected by the dollar. There is more demand for the dollar than the cedi and this actually arises because we are sending these risks out which demands paying insurance premium in dollars. So, what we are trying to do is, we want everyone to increase their intake. The more absorption they can take, the less flight of insurance premium,” the Commissioner asserted.
He also defended the proposed 300% increase in the capital requirement as crucial in stimulating the desired growth.
Correlation with the banking crisis and recapitalisation
The NIC has already indicated the banking crisis and recapitalisation somewhat delayed its planned exercise in the insurance sector. This, according to the Commission is because banks were already looking for capital from the same market the insurance companies will be considering to recapitalize.
A recapitalisation directive in the insurance sector would have thus led to competition between banks and insurers in raising capital– making it a lot more difficult for both entities.
With the bank recapitalisation now over, analysts believe the way has now been paved for a similar exercise in the insurance sector. The Insurance Commissioner confirmed this assertion citing the banking crisis as a major factor affecting insurance recapitalisation efforts in 2017 which almost led to the collapse of about three (3) companies.
“When we assess an insurance company, we don’t look at only the minimum capital but the totality of the risk that it carries. So GH¢ 15million is the minimum but we have companies worth over GH¢ 200million. So if you are worth over GH¢ 200million and you have risk of let’s say GH¢ 600million and you cannot pay your claims on time, it is a challenge despite meeting the minimum requirement. And most of the challenges some of our companies are facing are linked to the banking crisis because they have monies with these banks and they cannot access these monies,” he added.
The Insurance Commissioner also dismissed assertions that the insurance recapitalisation is a mere replication of that witnessed in the banking sector and states that the two exercises are mutually exclusive.
“No it’s not a replication for the fun of it. Everything is interconnected. Even some individuals have lost their monies because some of these banks have been consolidated. When such entities go under, it affects everybody. When insurance companies make their monies, these monies are kept in the bank for investment in the economy. Insurance companies go for those monies when there are claims or a need for it. Now we have an insurance company going to the bank and the bank has no money. Although on paper they have monies, once it’s inaccessible, it cannot be considered– affecting their Capital Adequacy Ratio,” he revealed.
This, according to the Commissioner, only makes a stronger case for the recapitalisation.
Meanwhile, banking and insurance operations are distinctly different with diverse inherent risks. Some analysts thus insist recapitalization may not necessarily be the way forward for addressing the woes of the insurance industry. Mr. Ofori however asserts, insurance companies even need more capital than banks.
Risk-Based Capital requirement
The NIC’s current regulatory approach is geared towards the global trend of Risk-Based Supervision framework and the Commission is still pursuing this approach by way of a Risk-Based Capital (RBC) requirement.
“The minimum capital requirement is also part of the risk-based framework because, that means, so much assets to absorb more risks. Risk-based means we’re looking at the totality of your portfolio to see the inherent risks and how we can manage them. It is a complex thing. Even though we asking for minimum capital, risk-based provisions will also come from it. When you suffer from malaria you don’t take only chloroquine. You add multivitamins and some pain killers to make you survive,” he illustrated.
Recapitalisation has always been used as a regulatory tool to check the financial soundness of the industry. There is, however, an emerging school of thought that this is not as crucial as the regulator focusing on ensuring effective management of the capital of the companies by ensuring they maintain capital levels commensurate with their respective risks.
Mr. Ofori says all these complement each other in strengthening an industry.
“Even new companies entering the market are not allowed to start up with the GH¢ 15million which was the minimum but at least GH¢ 25million. We couldn’t ask for the GH¢ 50million and even with that, they are investing more.”
Local versus International standards
Internationally, capital is not necessarily used as the basis for assessing the strength of an insurance company as opposed to the company’s net worth– an assertion Mr. Ofori confirmed.
“In advanced countries, their capital requirement could be like that of Ghana or even less. That doesn’t mean that the companies that applied for the license to operate insurance don’t have the capital backing. These companies know that insurance business is risky. So if the minimum capital required is US$ 3million, that company comes into the business with US$ 500million by way of net-worth.
“When we say minimum like the GH¢ 50million, that money is not going to sit down doing nothing. It could be your businesses, assets and other investments. Insurance monies have to be working. So if you have an insurance company that owns apartments, it’s part of their total worth. When we assess your worth, we look at both your liquid cash and assets because an insurance company can have a chain of hotels which means it can take as much risks and when there is a problem, it can fall on them. The Aon’s, Allianz and CGI’s have big investments all over the world and when they have challenges, they know where to draw money from. So when we say minimum capital requirement, it is not only liquid cash but also investments in T-Bills and so on,” he further explained.
The MCR in the Pan-European Solvency RBC regime is only € 3.2million (approximately GH¢ 19million) for life and reinsurance companies and € 2.3million (approximately GH¢ 14million) for non-life insurance companies. Some analysts have in this light predicted Ghana may only end up being one of the over-capitalised industries in the world by end of the recapitalisation.
But Mr. Ofori is challenging such views insisting that the local insurance industry which is still a burgeoning one cannot be placed on a level pegging with such developed regimes when it comes to capital requirement.
“The dollar equivalent of GH¢ 50million is about $ 10million or less depending on the exchange rate and other factors. Don’t forget the financial strength of those companies operating in those markets. One company is even worth more than all companies put together in Ghana. When we make reference to other places, Ghana is different. When you come to Ghana, the way people respond to work is different. Minimum capital has nothing to do with international best practices,” he emphasized.
“Ghana is not the country with the highest minimum capital requirement in the world. There are African countries such as Kenya whose was higher than Ghana. We’ve done a lot of research. Kenya is about US$ 8million or so and in Ghana the GH¢ 50million which was supposed to be $10 million will probably come low depending on exchange rate and other things. Insurance is international and transnational and each company must be worth its weight in gold on the international risk market otherwise businesses coming from outside Ghana will not consider Ghanaians,” he elaborated.
The Insurance Commissioner is confident the industry will respond positively to the exercise – citing special provisions to facilitate the process.
“If we should introduce the minimum capital, almost 50% of companies will meet it per our analysis. Looking at their portfolio, some of them qualify already, some with a little push will be there and a few may have challenges. But we will encourage them; that’s why we have transitional provisions.”
According to Mr. Ofori, the recapitalization is ultimately expected to reposition the insurance industry and the economy as whole on a stronger footing by addressing issues like low insurance penetration and undercutting.
“If you have a lot of companies on the market that are not financially strong, you will definitely have problems like undercutting because some of them are ready to sell for cheap. They take low premiums and when there is a loss, they are unable to pay. Strong companies have bad days but their account is so big and they are able to pay claims. So I think we’ll have a much disciplined market because minimum capital is not going to be easy. Recapitalisation will help eliminate undercutting because the more you undercut, the more it affects your minimum capital. So you’re going to do prudent underwriting”
In terms of the bigger picture by way of economic impact, he stated “I believe all in all, the industry can also retain much of their underwriting income and probably create more jobs. The more money we can create, more employment can be created, less monies leaving the country, our cedi might be more stable and the economic benefits are numerous”.
He also revealed a new bill is currently under consideration to complement the recapitalisation in addressing the longstanding challenge of low insurance penetration in Ghana.
“We’re working on a bill to make sure we can have more compulsory insurances. We are trying to make sure that these compulsory insurances will help boost the interest in insurance. We’re also increasing market conduct supervision to enable companies pay their claims on time. We’re providing a lot of insurance education to the industry and the general public. This year for example the Commission out of its own budget, through the Ghana Insurance College will train 10,000 Ghanaian youth as insurance agents nationwide for free so that there will be a pool of agents from which the industry can always fall on to recruit. We’re also doing much with respect to the compulsory fire insurance; creating awareness that it is compulsory to have these kinds of insurances. So we’re doing all we can.”
Even though the recapitalisation in the banking industry led to consolidation of several banks and lay-offs, Mr. Ofori believes the final narrative in the insurance sector may not necessarily be the same– allaying such concerns of concomitant job losses as a result of companies failing to meet the capital requirement.
“With the banking recapitalisation, some banks were affected. We don’t want to have those challenges. We don’t want the companies to go under. Much as we want the minimum capital to go up, we want to do it in such a way that we move along with everybody,” he concluded.