Tuesday, May 31, 2022


One recurrent challenge, or sneer, you may call it that the insurance industry has been battling with over the years is poor image. The public talk about it with the industry itself finding it difficult to shed off the toga without really knowing where it all started. Quite painful that despite all the progressive strides being made in the industry, this image problem is a blight to them all. It bares saying that a problem becomes difficult to solve if one does not know the root. My little experience before joining the industry could be conjectured as the same with many who still hold the views that the industry has a baggage of poor reputation, despite concerted efforts being made to get out of the image rattle.
I actually started out my career as a journalist and one of the most interesting parts of the life of the “penmen” is the newsroom which represents the pool where the news hunters congregate to do their stories and purge their writings of editorial impurities before serving them for public consumption.  The newsroom, though an intellectual arena often served as the arena for theatrics and melodrama which journalists are known for, and engage in, to ward off work fatigue. It was often while in the newsroom one of those days that a “strange man” walked in uninvited to sell what I was later told was Life Insurance to my colleagues. A little while, he became a habitual visitor to the newsroom. Even though many ignored him because of his unimpressive appearance, the man had a very strong stay on power which I think worked occasionally for him when a few of my colleagues discuss in hush tones, apparently negotiating how to pay what was called premium in exchange of a policy. Personally, I never often gave him a chance of engagement, partly due to his repulsive appearance and fuddy-duddy mien. I could recall his funny coat stuffed with God knows what in his lower pockets. These complement his weather beaten black shoes. As if he had sworn to an oath of just a single garb, this man went about and lived on meagre commissions he earned from the life policies sold, making him a known face around town. The only takeaway I could remember about this man was his lively mien. “Baba Insurance” as he was often called does not give in to derisory comments made about him as if he had his mind only set on his commission, irrespective of the course he was going to take getting it. 
I recall a day that Baba Insurance had just left our newsroom and headed for Iya Oyo, a popular buka were salacious amala, ewedu and gbegiri was sold. As my colleagues and I approached the buka, we saw “Baba Insurance” sweating it out while contending with the hot bowl of food served him in such a heated environment. The colleague was a little clownish as he shouted “Baba Insurance”, you are here to spend the money you just collected from us on amala and ogufe (goat meat) abi” The gentleman only responded with a wry smile and continued with his business. 
Since impression is formed in the theatre of the mind, I did not only resent “Baba insurance” in my mind, I also resented what he was selling, which was insurance. 
However, there was a turning point in my mental impression when I got an interview invitation for a PR position from the Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA). I had as part of my preparations asked around what insurance was all about, as well as what NIA does. Amazingly, I could only get very few individuals that gave satisfactory answer to the two legged question. Nevertheless, the thirst for a new job in a corporate environment prodded me to come for the interview at the Association’s 5 Custom Street Office in Marina, Lagos, a building that belonged to the National Insurance Corporation (NICON).  As we took turn to enter the conference room, where the panelists were, I was totally disappointed to notice there was a remarkable difference between the image I had conjured of the industry, little thanks to “Baba Insurance” and what I was confronted with. My interviewers were all dressed in lovely suits and were admirably polished in speech and carriage. All through my interactions with these “new ambassadors of insurance” at the interview, I was battling in my thoughts with the image differential created by ‘‘Baba Insurance”. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, was the thought running through my heart!
Some of the notable dudes I found in the interview room were the cosmopolitan Joe Irukwu with his queens English and his impeccably lovely suite. The baritone voice B.O Banjo who later became NIA Chairman same year, the youngish late Tunji Ogunkanmi with his comical but cerebral mind was by the corner. The tall and handsome Chief Raymond Odinigwe, made a good impression with his choice of words and sublime intelligence and I must not forget late Omosanya Akinyemi who later became the Oba of Idena Remo, a man reputed for his rich collection of lovely cologne and often dandy in dressing.
As the interview was going on, I was only a little bordered about the probing questions posed to me as my eyes were rowing round the room to pick what was absurd, but found none! Fortunately, I bagged the PR job as I was later told I came tops amongst the other contenders. Not still assuaged by what I saw at the interview, my search light was all out to pick anything in alignment with the posture of Baba Insurance”. I saw none really. It came to my mind that the industry actually made a mis-judgement. They have kept their best in house all these years and put wrong persons on the field. Like the Nigeria Police Force, the industry had put its finest in the inner room while exhibiting the wrong characters creating poor image for the industry. Not long into my stay in the history, quite typical of me, and my profession I became neck deep in industry issues that made me to meet legion of professionals and I was at a loss  about why many think that insurance people are back benchers when compared with their contemporaries’ in the financial services sector. It eludes a lot of people that insurance is even more intricate and challenging to professionalize in than most finance based professions. There is a regime of professional qualifications that practitioners are required to pass to be certified. While on the job, they must continually be at their best to be able to apply different approaches to different cases brought before them. Being a torchy profession, many see insurance from the lenses of banking where they just put in their money and withdraw at will. Insurance is more suffused with technicalities and decisions to pay a claim or refuse it must be based on sound professional judgement and good acumen. 
In the last two decades of trudging the industry, I have been quite bewildered why anyone would still be wondering that insurance industry is a nest for professional weaklings when it paraded the like of first class Nigerians like Pa Elebute, T.A Braithwaite, Chief J. Akin George, Yinka Lijadu, Sony Odogwu, Femi Johnson, Olola Olabode Ogunlana, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Oye Hassan Odukale, Ogala Osoka, Erelu Aina, Comfort Rowaiye, M.H Koguna, Dipo Bailey, Mohammed Remi Olowude, Mohammed Kari, Bala Zakary’au; Kehinde Oniwinde, et al, who made their marks so conspicuously, not just in the confines of the industry, but in all other realms of commerce, politics, international relations and other human endeavours. I believe the issue is that the industry did not just get it right on how to showcase the profiles of its finest products to the public as it should, than being destitute of them. When the industry begins to do this with the current galaxy of stars and the upcoming ones then part of the narrative of poor image which the likes of “Baba Insurance” had etched in the minds of the public (of which I was sometimes one) would turn around 360 degrees for the better. 

Tope Adaramola is the 
Executive Secretary of 
The Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers

No comments:

Post a Comment