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Seun Ajayi : Insurance legend on his own terms

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 KELVIN EGERUE

 

William Shakespeare in the book Twelfth Night challenged the ingenuity of men when he said, “be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”.

This logic was extended further when it was said in the ladder of Saint Augustine that the height by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

There are certain insurance professionals in the Nigerian insurance market space who holds the credit for revolutionizing both the practice and business of insurance in the country. These are the professionals who toiled and indeed made sacrifices if only to upscale the practice of insurance to such enviable heights as to enable the industry to shade itself off the old garb of being referred to as the poorer cousin of the banking industry. These are the special and spectacular breed of insurance practitioners who successfully succeeded in transforming the business into such a profitable venture as to cajole the banks into wanting to own and indeed incubate insurance firms among their conglomerates. These are the practitioners who succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling in terms of insurance companies’ premium earnings and profitability.

In this category of the then-new breed and charismatic insurance professionals is Mr. Oluseun Olanrewaju Ajayi; a pragmatic, resourceful, and intellectually inquisitive insurance man who abhors the setting of limits in any human adventure. It was in his determination to challenge the status quo that ‘Seun, as he is popularly called had in partnership with some of his colleagues with discerning minds developed the ‘can-do spirit which culminated in the setting of new standards, the abolition of the old order, the conquest of new grounds and the eventual erection of new signposts which subsequently point the way forward for the business of insurance in Nigeria.  Welcome to the world of ‘Seun Ajayi, an astute insurance professional who subdued all challenges to bestride insurance practice like a colossus.

Let us rewind a little. The insurance of the old was devoid of deep-pocket investors. It lacked bountiful returns in the mold of the banking sector. The Nigerian insurance industry as of then did not have the attraction of a six-digit remuneration structure for executive officers even as returns on investments never encouraged territorial expansion. The industry was to take a turn for the better when the likes of ‘Seun Ajayi, Mr. Peter Claver-Obinna and the late Remi Olowude and the late ‘Tunji Ogunkanmi among others sprouted out to usher in what came to be acknowledged as new breed insurance companies otherwise called the second-generation companies. As the industry remembers this category of insurance professionals for good, the industry as well celebrates the nation’s pioneer Commissioner for Insurance and Chief Executive Officer of the National Insurance Commission, the legendary Chief Eugene Okwor who, against all odds and threats accepted to license and rebrand those insurance companies as were proposed by their proprietors.

‘Seun Ajayi partnered Claver-Obinna in the establishment of the then International Standard Insurers (ISI), a company that opened the floodgate of new entrants in the marketplace. The successes of ISI which were facilitated by the mutual competition that Remi Olowude’s Industrial and General Insurance Company (IGI) provided and the need to perhaps raise the bar in service delivery nudged ‘Seun to break away from ISI to establish yet another insurance company, this time, Sovereign Trust Insurance Company Limited. For those who care to know, today’s vibrant, purpose-driven, resourceful, and highly endowed Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc is the product of the buy-over of one hitherto obscure Apapa-based Grand Union Assurance Company Limited which ‘Seun’ acquired, dusted, and re-kitted as to enable it to fit into the shape and brand of a company deserving of the patronage of the high and the mighty in the realm of insurance and allied financial services. The landmark achievement in the person of ‘Seun is that he and his likes opened the space for new generation insurance companies to germinate, blossom and subsequently serve as leading lights in the marketplace.  They opened the floodgate for an avalanche of new-generation insurance companies to take a stand.

Those who celebrate ‘Seun Ajayi today as the then point man of Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc need to be reminded that the bulk of what the company is today came about during his regime as the founding Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer which dates to January of 1995 when he opened the doors for Sovereign Trust Insurance with a paid-up share capital of N20 million out of the N30 million authorized share capital. Currently, the authorized share capital is N7.5 billion with a fully paid-up capital and Shareholders’ funds of over N8.6 billion. The ownership of the company is made up of diverse shareholders from different walks of life in reflection of its new status as a publicly quoted company.

Gross Premium Written by the company in the first quarter of 2022 amounted to N7.35 billion while it was N5.37 billion in the same period of 2021 giving a 37% growth rate.

There is no gain in saying that ‘Seun and his crop of revolutionary insurance technocrats set the stage for the vibrancy, breath of fresh air, international recognition and above the average threshold rankings which international rating agencies accord the Nigerian insurance firms today. One may be particular in acknowledging the fact that it was ‘Seun Ajayi that set Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc into becoming a highly professional organisation providing unique risk management services as well as improved claims settlement procedures. His leadership acumen ensured that the company achieved a leadership position in the market within the shortest possible time in line with the company’s strategic focus. ‘Seun strived very hard to ensure that the company consistently exploited the under-developed areas of the market by creating innovative products to meet customers’ needs. He continuously motivated and enhanced the quality of the company’s human resources through the development of a well-articulated training and welfare program. Above it all, he positioned Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc to become a highly profitable organisation that would consistently provide satisfactory returns on investment for its shareholders. One of his greatest accomplishments as the pioneer MD/CEO of the company was the successful transition of the company from a Limited Liability underwriting firm to a Publicly Quoted Company in November 2006.

He was a member of the Nation’s Vision 2020 Business Support Group which was inaugurated by the Federal Government.

Let us subsequently present Mr. Oluseun O. Ajayi as a Chartered Insurer with over 37 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is a graduate of History and Politics from the University of Ibadan and an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute of London (ACII) and Nigeria (ACIIN) respectively.  He was a member of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA). He is an astute professional who devoted his entire working life to the practice of insurance. Today, he occupies a very auspicious position as a renowned Administrator and Manager of men and material in his new status as chairman of one of Nigeria’s successful financial institutions, Sovereign Trust Insurance Plc. Culled from NAIPE journal.

 

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