Nigeria does not have a lot of female Chief Executive Officers. But the few ones that are there are doing amazing things. One of them is Mrs Joyce Ojemudia, the CEO of African Alliance Insurance Plc. She was appointed to that position in October 2020. Prior to the appointment, she had worked with other notable insurance companies such as Healthcare International, Linkage Assurance, and Staco Insurance Plc where she held different high-stakes positions. We recently visited her at the office for an exclusive interview. We discussed a whole lot of issues, including her experience with African Alliance over the past five months and the steps the company is taking towards ensuring profitability. She also gave advice to women and young girls who are aspiring to become like her. Enjoy the conversation.
BEA: It’s very nice to meet you, Ma. Can you tell us about your background and experiences prior to joining African Alliance Insurance Plc?
Joyce Ojemudia: It’s my pleasure to host you and your team in African Alliance. I will quickly get to my background. My first degree was in Insurance from the University of Lagos, and then I got a Master’s in Risk Management also from Unilag. I am an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Insurance, Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Economists, and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I am also an alumnus of the prestigious Lagos Business School.
After my National Youth Service Corps, I worked briefly in a company called Healthcare International. They are a pioneer scheme of health insurance in Nigeria. They are actually a subsidiary of Nicon Insurance. After two years (post NYSC), I moved to Linkage Assurance where I served for five years before moving to Staco Insurance Plc as the Regional Head for Lagos South where I served for nine years before I returned home to Linkage.. And I served for three and a half years in Linkage as the General Manager in charge of Marketing, before I began my journey (specifically in October 2020) in African Alliance.
BEA: It’s been approximately five months since you assumed the position. What has the experience been like?
Joyce Ojemudia: It has been generally a good experience. But it has also been challenging because I joined the company in the middle of a pandemic. But the interesting thing is that we’ve been able to put smiles on the faces of a lot of families by living up to our expectation in terms of claims payment. As you may well know, a lot of deaths have occurred that are related to COVID and African Alliance have had cause to pay claims, precept upon precept on a daily basis. If you look between October through to December (two months since I resumed), we paid N1.3 billion claims. So, I’m glad that we are touching lives and living up to our promise in terms of claims payment.
In the first forty days of the 2021 business year, we have received a lot more claims both in group life and individual life. Because of the time that we are in, we see a lot of people surrounding their policies even before maturity; meaning they want to take their money in bulk to even feed or do whatever they want. In total, we have paid N964 million worth of claims. So, we’ve been able to live up to expectation in terms of prompt payment of any genuine claim. And I believe that the general public will be very happy with us for living up to the tangibility of insurance itself because the tangibility is the ability to pay prompt claims.
BEA: A lot of people still don’t believe in insurance, especially in Nigeria. And it’s a big problem. How would you convince such people that they need insurance?
Joyce Ojemudia: I think the major reason a lot of people don’t believe in insurance is because they don’t think insurance firms can actually pay claims. That is why African Alliance has been in the news letting people know about the claims we have paid. The next level we are going is to have as many customers that are willing to have their testimonials taken featured in the news. If we continue preaching the gospel of claims payment, before long people will key into insurance policy purchase in Nigeria.
BEA: Let’s talk about this year’s International Women’s Month celebration. As always, the message has been all about women empowerment and challenging the status quo. As one of the few women CEOs in Nigeria today, what would you say are the biggest obstacles preventing more African women from reaching executive positions in the workplace and what can be done to change that narrative?
Joyce Ojemudia: First, whatever glass ceiling that is preventing more women from becoming like me or like the other men out there is in the mind. So, what I will encourage every woman to do is to focus and prepare. Prepare in terms of knowledge base because if you are distinct in what you do, when opportunity comes, they will seek after you. As the President of Insurance Ladies in Nigeria, what I tell my fellow ladies is that preparation and opportunity bring about success. If an opportunity comes and you are not prepared, even if you are the most preferred, you may not be chosen if you don’t have the required skill.
Also bear in mind that we as women are required to work twice as hard as men if we want to be recognized. So, I tell them to be the entrepreneurs in-house. And what that means is that they should be the first to innovate.
BEA: This is a very important job that you have. And like you mentioned earlier, it can be very challenging. I can only imagine these challenges and the demands, especially the need to turn around the company’s financial fortunes. Could you take us through some of the strategies you are adopting towards actualising this?
Joyce Ojemudia: The root cause of the financial challenges we have is the huge cost of claims in our annuity business which has eroded the profitability of the company. Basically, expense in terms of claims, management expense, and marketing expense. But we are looking into that critically and I can assure you that our costs have been brought down significantly in the four months that I’ve been here. We are also making concerted effort to increase our market so as to increase our income.
So, in the first forty days of the 2021 business year, we measured our performance and realized that we’ve been able to grow our Gross Premium Income (GPI) by about 105% as against what we did in 2020 business year. We have also brought down cost by 61%. Also, claims have been reduced by 36%. With these figures, I’m sure that by the end of the first quarter, we will be able to perform better than what we did last year.
BEA: How did the events of last year (the COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS Protests) impact your company’s operation?
Joyce Ojemudia: The pandemic affected the economy globally. But prior to that time, I think we were prepared to work remotely. After observing how the rest of the world was shutting down, we ensured to put all the necessary structures in place just in case of eventuality.
But the preparation notwithstanding, the pandemic did affect some aspects of our business. For our group life arm, we were able to handle online. It was the individual life arm (where our retailers have to go from house to house to market) that got affected. And the lesson we learnt from that is that we can always build on that challenge. So, we are putting a lot of measures in place to ensure that the business processes for the individual life arm can be carried out online as well; so that if the world ever shuts down a second time, we can still do business and do it well without meeting physically with our clients.
The #EndSars protests also affected us because people died and we had to pay a lot of claims. Even the COVID too generally impacted our books in the sense that people also died of COVID. You will see some claims and the death certificate will be COVID.
BEA: COVID-19 is still a problem even though we are no longer under lockdown. I mean, people are still dying of it. And it’s a new year. What should we expect from your Q1 financials, considering all these militating factors?
Joyce Ojemudia: Although these variables look like they are going to hamper our performance, I can assure you that we are coming out better. We’ve seen that from the first forty days that we are doing excellently well. And the parameters for business are still looking good. So, based on the statistics/data that we have, we believe that our first quarter result is going to be good.
BEA: Let’s talk a bit more about you, Madam. How do you relax and catch a break from work demands?
Joyce Ojemudia: I do deliberately create time to rest because no matter how much you work, the work never finishes. So, to relax, I get into the gospel arena where I listen to messages either from TBN or from different men and women of God. I also listen to Christian songs because they help me to relax. I do get rhema for the next level on the job while listening to songs. I also read books that can help me build my company and my personal brand. I also use my spare time to learn about how to be a better leader and impact people around me positively.
BEA: There are a lot of young girls out there who are aspiring to become like you. Do you have any advice for them?
Joyce Ojemudia: It takes discipline to become a winner. Winning is inside of you and it starts from home; you can’t just pick it up from the streets. So, ensure to always live up to the lessons and morals you were taught right from home, even when nobody is watching you. While you do that, ensure to also focus. If you have a dream that you are focused and committed to actualizing, nobody what the obstacles you may face along the way, you will certainly actualize them. It also takes a lot of hard work, a lot of commitment, consistency and tenacity. Don’t forget to crown everything with prayers because God looks at the heart and will always grant you your heart desires.
You may watch the full interview with Mrs Joyce Ojemudia by following the link below.
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