How inurance can be upscaled in Nigeria – Samira Omolola-Nwaturuocha, Chief Risk Officer, AXA Mansard

Samira Omolola Nwaturuocha is the Chief Risk Officer and Chief Security Officer at AXA Mansard.

She manages risk and resilience of security topics across the entire spectrum – whether it’s financial or operational risk, core business, as well as information security. She also oversees control of physical security health and safety and resilience within that framework.

In this interview with Nairametrics, she discusses everything from risk management, crisis management, IT and of course, insurance in 2022 and beyond. Excerpt:

How did you find yourself in risk management, judging from the fact that you have a science background?

As a curious mind, I had interest in a lot of things. After my youth service, it started off as me just looking for a good job that could help me save and to be able to do other personal ambitions that I want to do.

I got an opportunity to work with GTBank in marketing. way back in the day. A lot of people shy away from marketing but for me, all my life, I had always sold something so it didn’t seem like a big deal to me; it was just about me marketing a different product.

After two years in marketing, I got married so my husband was here in Lagos and I was going to move to Lagos with my husband (I grew up in Kaduna) and I wanted to challenge myself to do something different and in the bank then we go through three months training school and one of the topics that was very difficult for me in training school was on trading – Treasury bills, bonds. Every time my customers wanted to buy, I would always have to call another one of my colleagues to help me explain to the customer.

There was an opportunity to work in risk management in that area for me, it was just a way of challenging myself. That’s how I got into financial risk management. I started with interest rate risk management and over time, as I got my knowledge built and developed on that, I was always curious to learn something new as there were 4 desks in that group; interest rate, trading, liquidity and market analytics.

What I decided to do then was to get to work very early, sit with older colleagues and they teach me and then I will come on very early and do their report and do mine. So, it was like a way of paying them back.

By the time, I was done with financial risk, it sparked my curiosity as I found something new to learn every day. I was then deployed to credit risk in the bank which is also a very interesting area, a lot to do with the bank in terms of lending, documentation and being detailed. By the time I was doing that for a while, I told myself that I don’t want to remain in a particular area, I wanted to have a holistic view so I sought for an opportunity to move to operational risk where I got to learn operational, environmental risk, business continuity and digress. And after a while, you always want a bigger and new challenge

I got an opportunity to work with AXA in a role that was more like a middle-level role, so I took that opportunity and that’s how I left banking. In insurance, it’s also being very interesting, though a bit more challenging than I actually thought.

How is AXA Mansard able to convince people to invest in health insurance?

When it comes to insurance generally, there is a mindset that I am not going to consume it. Take my car for instance, if I pay my premium and I don’t have an accident, I am not likely to consume it. But with health insurance on the other hand, it’s actually a little bit easier to sell because people are more likely to consume it and people find it much more relevant because it pertains to health.

I think one of the challenges is the financial capacity to be able to pay ‘a high premium’. But today, where you can digitalize payment, people can pay on smaller instalments and that helps to make things easier.

What are some of your favourite tasks as a risk management specialist?

I love the challenge of brainstorming and solving a problem. That’s how I view my role as a risk manager. I also enjoy the fact that a lot of time when I see a challenge, I am able to relate with whoever I am talking to.

Sometimes, I find that the reason why that person has not been able to find a solution is actually because they are not looking at the holistic picture. So you have put in place something but it’s not working because it’s not dependent only on you and that for me is always interesting.

Something that motivates me is always seeing the continuous improvement that comes with that process because the risk management process is to, first of all, identify the risk and then analyse it and then mitigate it. Either you are preventing it from happening or you are trying to manage it in such a way that even if it does happen, the impact should not be too bad and at the end of the day what you get is a much more improved process, product or experience for a customer.

So many Nigerians still haven’t accepted insurance, what is the problem?

I think it’s not just about awareness. We can’t take the issue away from the many other challenges that Nigerians are faced with. For instance, I have customers who want to buy a policy as they believe that an insurance product can help them, but they have to also pay school fees, pay house rent and do a couple of other things.

I think it’s not just in the awareness. Today we still largely require clients that pay a premium per annum but moving to an era where customers can also pay their premium as they earn their salary monthly because they are not earning their salary on an annual basis and I think that’s where leveraging on digital and technology can really go a long way.

What is your perception of customer feedback as a risk manager?

This is actually important to internal and external customers for risk managers. A practical example would be, a customer makes a complaint, I believe that customer feedback should be advocated for and not just advocated for, but also to give customers multiple channels to be able to give you feedback and that should be made convenient for customers.

If a customer gives you feedback on a product they bought, and they are not happy about certain things they found out after they had bought the product, for me that could be a reputational risk, because depending on how things go, it could be misconstrued that you sold wrongly to that customer. But even for business growth as well, that is also a risk because it means the customer will not come back. Customer feedback helps to improve the business and risk is all about improving.

Are you managing risk for the company or for customers?

Both. A lot of times, in my role, you always have to come to a form of compromise and for me, one of the things I really enjoy is working with people, but sometimes also having to influence as well. And that comes with a lot of conversation and with a lot of trying to see the other person’s point of view and also getting them to see your own point of view in an amicable manner.

What inspires you?

Knowing that I am helping to make things better literally every day. Over the years, we have become more aware of ourselves. For me, I have come to realise that I don’t like routine things that become boring over time. I have really found fulfilment in this role that almost every day, it’s a different challenge, different problem. You are looking at Russia and Ukraine and how they are influencing the budget you have already done earlier in the year or the Kaduna-Abuja train incident. It’s just dynamic and interesting.

How do you manage family life with your work?

For me, support is very key. The level of support I get has been very helpful. For my role, it can be quiet for two days and then the next two days, something happened in Abuja or Kaduna and you are almost standing on your feet all day all night trying to get things fixed, so also having that support at home helps a lot. But the major thing is having that support because on some days, you don’t feel like going on, but you have that person rooting for you and standing solidly behind you helps.

How do you relax?

I love to read. I grew up around a lot of books. all kinds of books from the English classes, historical, literature, Greece and the kings of Egypt. I get lost in the world of books; fiction, non-fiction. I love to research as well. I don’t know for some reason I found it very relaxing and especially if its not work type related research. I can get love for Wikipedia going from one link to another.

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