Exclusive: the SUNU Group announces the exit of Sanlam from its capital and the merger of its West African activities in Senegal

In the exclusive interview given to Financial Afrik in its issue 81, Pathé Dione, CEO of the SUNU Group, announces the conclusion of a strategic agreement on the exit of Sanlam from the Sunu round table and the refocusing of its West African activities. on Dakar.

We are considering the creation of two or three other banks in our major countries to strengthen our Life, P&C and banking synergy.

23 years ago, in 1998, then employed by a large group with comfortable treatment, you created the SUNU Group with your partners. First of all, who was Pathé Dione at that time?

Mathematics teacher (1967-1972), passionate about insurance, I was a salaried student at Mutuelles du Mans – Paris (1972 -1979); My training focused at the same time on studies in Insurance and Economics, leading to the Diploma of the Center des Hautes Etudes en Assurances (CHEA) and a doctorate in Economic Sciences at the Panthéon Sorbonne. I was Managing Director of COLINA SA (formerly Saham) in Ivory Coast (1980-1985) then Africa Zone Director at UAP International and AXA (1985-1999).

What explained the choice of entrepreneurship at age 57 at a time when many of us think about annuities?

An opportunity to take over the Axa companies in Africa has arisen. The ambition to serve Africans and demonstrate that Africans can build, manage and grow a group with international standards did the rest.

A year after the creation of SUNU, in 1999, SUNU Finances (parent company of the SUNU Group) bought five subsidiaries of the AXA-UAP group, a big surprise at the time. Can you come back to the conditions of these acquisitions?

AXA had decided to refocus its activity in Africa on countries with better potential. As AXA – UAP Africa Director, I wanted to perpetuate the work because I believed in the potential of the insurance markets in Africa. The terms of sale were very affordable, with a partnership agreement with AXA during the first years.

Today, Pathé Dione, 23 years after creating SUNU, what does the group represent in terms of staff, number of subsidiaries and branches of activity?

At the end of 2020, the SUNU Group had more than 4,000 employees in 16 countries in French-speaking and English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa. The Group comprises 29 companies including 8 Life insurance companies, 15 Non-Life insurance companies, a bank, a microfinance company and a health management company. SUNU recorded a consolidated turnover of 206.628 Billion F CFA (315 Million €) and has managed more than 517.35 Billion FCFA (788 Million €) of assets on behalf of its policyholders and beneficiaries of contracts. The balance sheet total was 877.9 billion F CFA (1.338 billion €) at the end of 2020.

I had made a commitment to President Macky SALL to create an umbrella Holding in Senegal, so in April 2019, SUNU Participations Holding West Africa was created in Dakar, it now holds all the holdings of the subsidiaries of the Group of the UEMOA zone for a total of more than 28 billion CFA francs; this is a first step. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Senegalese Minister of Finance and Budget, Mr. Abdoulaye Daouda DIALLO, who facilitated the realization of the project.

Business in Africa is not easy, they say. What were the most important challenges you had to overcome in the group’s development strategy?

First, there is the availability of well-trained human resources. Then, the high cost of imported goods with prohibitive entry taxes, leading to an imbalance in overheads. But also, the lack of a social security system, which means that Health Insurance, a product in high demand, is in deficit. In addition, the ignorance of insurance by certain sections of the population, cultural habits, the low rate of banking, superstition are natural brakes to the promotion of insurance products.

In addition, certain provisions of insurance regulations are not adapted to African realities (mortality tables, formal notice measures, minimum capital level).

Insurance companies constantly advocate for a single authorization in the CIMA space and facilitation of investments between the two banking zones of UEMOA and CEMAC. What would be the impact of these two demands on the development of insurance in Africa, CIMA zone?

For Pan-African groups like ours, the single accreditation would not have a significant impact since we are already present in most of the CIMA countries. A minimum capital per country approach would make more sense because it would be in line with the size of the markets.

The CIMA code allows insurance companies approved in a country to make investments throughout the CIMA area (article 335 of the CIMA code). However, in practice it is extremely difficult to implement, as the administrative formalities between the two banking zones UEMOA and CEMAC are long and restrictive.

You have received a number of accolades as an entrepreneur, citizen of the world and of Africa. Can you list them and explain their symbolic significance?

I will first quote the 4 recognitions from my country of origin:

– Officer of the Senegalese Order of Merit – 1995

– Commander of the Senegalese Order of Merit – 1999

– Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of Senegal – 2016

– Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Senegal – 2020

Recognition in my country of heart:

– Officer of the national order of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire – 2012.

Other distinctions:

– Officer of the Order of Merit of the Central African Republic – 2002.

– Deal of the year award for the acquisition of Allianz companies in 5 countries at the Financial Afrik Awards – 2019

– Best African Insurer Award in 2020 at the Financial Afrik Awards 2020

In 2017, the Saham group entered the capital of the SUNU Group. You reported a break-in at the time. How do you deal with this “intrusion” today?

Since then, the recovery of the shares held by Saham Finances has been my priority. In March 2018, all shares in the insurance division of Saham Finances were sold to the South African group Sanlam. Discussions were initiated in 2019 with the Sanlam group, leading to an agreement in principle for the exit of Saham Finances from the capital of SUNU Finances.

As of December 31, 2020, the Sanlam group and I signed an agreement for the takeover of all the shares held by Saham Finances in SUNU Finances.

Today, SUNU Finances is owned exclusively by the historical shareholders of the SUNU Group, owned by Financière Dione SAS at 54.73%, Mr. Pathé DIONE at 26.44% and other partners at 18.83%. My family and I own more than 81% of the Group.

So everything is back to normal. We have fully recovered our actions and have taken steps to ensure that this kind of inconvenience does not happen again.

In 2019, when we thought you had settled down, busy with the organic development of your group, you bought five subsidiaries of the Allianz group. What can we say about the stakes of this operation?

This acquisition is in line with our development strategy. By leaving these countries, the Allianz group wanted to entrust its customers to a benchmark African group capable of delivering the best quality of service and therefore chose the SUNU Group.

Our ambition remains the same: organic growth combined with external growth. We will take the time necessary to achieve our goals, always keeping in mind this thought: “time does not respect what is done without it”.

SUNU is today the leader in life insurance in the CIMA zone, with a strong presence in IARD and a growing bank. What is your development strategy and what are your future prospects?

The SUNU Group has been the leader in life insurance in the CIMA zone since 2013. We have consolidated this achievement and strengthened our offer with non-life insurance companies in our countries of presence. We are considering the creation of two or three other banks in our major countries to strengthen our Life, P&C and banking synergy.

We aim to offer packaged solutions accessible in each SUNU company or agency regardless of the sector.

The digitalization of all of our processes currently underway will make it possible to address new customer segments.

We have started a multi-year group digitization program which brings our ambition to:

-better serve our customers wherever they are, efficiently,

-control the costs of our operations,

-modernize the organization of the Group by repositioning certain businesses and resizing certain entities.

-address new customer segments,

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start a business?

Three keys to success:

-The work, with respect for its commitments;

-Innovation, to stay ahead of your competitors;

– Agility, the ability to adapt to market changes for a company with lasting success.

In a word, as in several: “doing to know and knowing to do”.

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