Rethinking insurance: Mustapha’s keynote at the Insurance CEO’s forum

What is the unoccupied space in the insurance sector? As a CEO, do you move around trying to take on occupied spaces and struggle

What is the unoccupied space in the insurance sector?

As a CEO, do you move around trying to take on occupied spaces and struggle with the person to unseat them? Or you move around, identify, settle and take control of the unoccupied seats?

I don’t know about you. When I was still young, I loved playing football. Now I just watch it. At the playground, I occupied the striker position – no.9. Football is a simple and beautiful game. The rules are clear; score as many goals and do not concede.

If you look at football and the insurance sector particularly Uganda, the objectives are the same: score as many goals, do not concede. Sell more, incur less. We have the brokers, agents and direct sales people. Their role is write as many policies. The other side, we have the defenders. These are the claims, underwriters and the rule is precise; stop as many goals from entering. If you score 10 goals, concede 10, do you win? No. To win, you score one goal and don’t concede.

Unlike in football where you have a coach, in insurance we have a team leader; the CEO. How do you ensure that you are always looking for unoccupied space, the right people and win the match?

Unfortunately for football and any other business, we have been tuned to celebrate people who score goals. If you don’t score goals, somehow the background work is not known. As a small boy, I was very ambitious. My aim was always score goals. In my class from Primary two to four, everybody knew me as no.9. Actually they would call me ‘no.9.’ However that was a simple comfort I had to myself until one day in our district we got a huge competition.

Usually every three years, there was a powerful competition at the district level, that is Hoima district, where elite teams would go, play competitively to win a trophy. Because it came only after three years, you had only one chance in your entire primary life to be in that elite team. That was my dream.

One day, I cannot forget, that was Friday 1st 1989. We got a new coach. He came to our class, whispered softly to our English teacher. He rose straight and said; “if you like football, raise up your hand.” I raised mine. “If you like football and know how to play it, stand up.” Around 20 pupils stood up. “Fast as you can go the assembly,” said the coach.

I reached the assembly. We were over 100 of us. The coach needed only 22 footballers. When the coach saw the number exceeded his limit, he brilliantly gave us a simple task. He said, “I want you to run fast as you can, go to the playing field and occupy the positions you are comfortable with.”

To strike, you must be agile, strong and fast. It was around half kilometre from the assembling point to the pitch. We ran as fast as possible. By the time I reached the playing field, six boys had already taken the no.9 position. I quickly crossed over to the other side. Five people were in the space. I looked at them. They were powerful and bigger than me.


“Don’t go into a war you can’t win! It was clear I couldn’t win these guys. The coach could not prefer me. These guys were shift. Already had beaten me to occupy the space.” I thought to myself internally.


Bowing down, I started moving away from the field. I knew I couldn’t make it. As I moved out, I had a voice. Hey. I stopped. Turned around and the coach said something that changed my life. I know it could change yours too. He said, “Do you give up that easily?” I reflected slowly on that statement because it was important. I replied him, “I play no.9. The space is already occupied.” He said, “I see across in the goal keeper position there is no body. Why don’t you go and play in that position?”

If you have watched a movie called the ‘Shaolin Soccer.’ You know the lady substitute how she comes to take over the keeper position but feeling low. She thinks everybody is saying she doesn’t know.

I went into the keeper position. I worked myself extremely hard. I asked the best goal keepers I knew of in the village. I became from average to good. We had a main goalkeeper and I was the assistant. Most of times I played the games. Every match of the competitive football our team went, I was there.

You can’t imagine how my life was changed by this opportunity. I played many matches. I was among the team, and went through all emotions of winning and losing. This experience opened up the world while in my young age. If I had stayed in the no.9 position, I would have been dropped. I took the unoccupied space and it made my life easier.

Ladies and gentlemen, what is the unoccupied positions in your business?

To succeed, focus on the blue ocean and make the competition irrelevant.

What are the most pressing issues in insurance today?

The reward structure in the insurance market is that insurers don’t invest in long time business growth. They are always looking for the next kill. People want a sale and want it now. You can’t go further unless you deliberately invest for the long time. Agents and brokers are just aiming to meet yesterday’s revenue targets. This is something insurance players need to fix urgently.

One person tells you about insurance. Another colleague from the same company tells about the same product. You find that the product articulation is completely different.

I had a confession with one the CEOs. He said, “Am tired of you insurance sales persons.” Just too much traffic.

Many insurance firms are concentrated in Kampala targeting financial institutions, government Ministries, Directorates, Agencies, (MDAs), SMEs and individuals.

Here, you have the broker who has targets to deliver. The broker sends foot soldiers to any of the target market. The broker is like an independent structure outside the insurance sector.

In the same market, there are agents targeting the same kind of individuals and institutions. The agents also their sales teams into the same market. They are not organised to know which broker has gone where. You risk having different sales team fighting for the same client in terms of lower premiums to be charged, and kickbacks. The target customer has powers to decide. So, the agent will tell the target customer; “I need this badly. Do not tell the broker. I will do anything you wish.”

At the end of the day, you have the hyenas, lions and snakes all looking in the same pond to fish!

Insurers are fighting themselves to the same target because the client has seen they are disorganised. The results are not very healthy. We are generalists; not created expertise. The insurance sector is not empowering anybody to invest for the long term and create market awareness. Many insurers want to grab want is at hand and go. In our actions for survival, we are stagnating the market. We need to look for free spaces.

Rethinking the insurance sector

Let’s focus on what we are good at in search of growing the market. If you look at the data, what are brokers, agents and direct sales teams good at? Most of the time we make decisions based on opinion and hearsay. We may not segment the market based on geography.

The best way is to segment into sectors; who brought most revenue in which sector. Give priority to the biggest income in your book based on the sector. Until you deliver 40% of your anticipated revenues for any financial period, do not focus elsewhere. Let the sales teams drive marketing in the selected industry of focus so there is sector deepening, and product expertise.

Once any team hits 40%, they are free to go into other sectors. For brokers, licensing is based on which industry expertise do you have? The general feeling in the market is that brokers have gotten their own preferred insurance firms. And this is one of the biggest challenges in the market. The sector accepts inefficiency. The agents need to be allocated specific industry sectors of focus. However, there is need for free industrial flow of information, the brokers can tell you everything about the clients they hold accounts with the insurance firm.

Direct sales can be removed from the industry. They have a lot of work in underwriting, managing the clients, and providing proactive risk management. Ensuring risks do not materialize. This is another disease killing the sector so much that you will have adverts by insurance firms advertising of how much they paid in claims as paying claims grows the business. Paying claims in a short time does grow the business.

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