In the age of #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements, women in positions of power can only be better news for feminists across the globe.
That is why the rise of Aretha Abena Abrafi Duku, Managing Director of Ghana Union Assurance (GUA), a leader insurer in Ghana’s growing market, who is also the President of the Ghana Insurers Association and very recently the President of the African Insurance Organisation (AIO), is more than good news and a major sign of progress.
As the first Ghanaian female to head the continental insurance body, where she brings to bear her over 20 years of experience in insurance and risk management, Aretha will serve as President of the AIO until next year’s Conference and Annual General Assembly, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a new President will be chosen.
The African Insurance Organisation (AIO) is a non-governmental organisation recognised by many African governments. Its main objectives are the promotion of inter-African co-operation and development of a healthy insurance and re-insurance industry in Africa.
Before ascending the position of President of the Ghana Insurers Association, no woman has been there. In more than 25 years of the association’s existence, which has led to the shaping of policies, regulations, and guidelines, never has a woman been chosen to lead such a male-dominated industry. Unsurprisingly, she is the only female member of the new board members.
To underscore how influential her position is, Aretha is now the voice of all industry players that include the almost 60 life and non-life insurance providers.
As though these high profile positions are not enough, Aretha keeps winning awards, locally, continentally and globally to cement her position as one of just a handful of women who hold sway when it comes to insurance and finance in Ghana, Africa and the world.
At the maiden edition of the West Africa Business Excellence Awards, Aretha walked home with the award for the Business Leader of the Year – Insurance.
The awards seeks to celebrate organizations that have worked to make a difference and also demonstrated extraordinary business leadership attributes, compassion and humility in the delivery of service to the community.
Organized by KN Unique Communications and Strategic Accountancy Africa, the ceremony was held under the theme, ‘Celebrating Business Excellence in West Africa’.
In an interview with the B&FT after the awards and recent elevations, Aretha couldn’t hide her elation. “I am overwhelmed. You do not expect these things especially when you are in your corner doing your work. I am extremely humbled and honoured to receive this award,” she said.
To her, the reward for hardwork is hardwork. “This means I have to work harder and continue to do what I do and do it better. I have targets to hit and so I have to make sure that I am bringing this award to encourage the talent I have in the company so they can help reel the numbers in.”
She appreciated her colleagues in the industry, family and friends who have helped lift her up. “I will encourage my children that they can be whatever they want to be, all they have to do is believe in themselves and work extremely hard because somebody somewhere is watching and when it matters most, you will be recognised,” she said.
Profile of Aretha
For a decade and two years, Aretha has been the Deputy Managing Director of Ghana Union Assurance and during the period, she led the organisational transformation, spanning corporate imaging, re-organisation, business process automation and information technology adoption.
It wasn’t surprising that she took over as the Managing Director and since then, her leadership skills and qualities has seen sustainable growth and profitability of the company.
Starting her career 20 years ago at Hannover Reinsurance Company in South Africa, Aretha had the opportunity to work with CGU Insurance in South Africa and other prestigious institutions like Alexander Forbes, AON and Glenrand MIB.
She also consulted in Germany for a number of companies on notable projects, working on the Value Proposition for HP and launching the famous Evo brand of products.
After her sojourn in other countries, she found it prudent to come home. She currently holds board membership of Prudential Bank, Adehyeman Savings and Loans, CDH Securities, GUA Life, and the Ghana Oil and Gas Pool, where she chairs the Finance Committee.
As a member of the National Insurance Commission’s Compulsory Insurance Committee, Chair for the Training and Development Committee of the Insurance Institute of Ghana and a board member of the Ghana Agriculture Insurance Pool, Aretha is working to help reshape the future of the industry.
Introduced to insurance by her father, Nana Agyei Duku, the very first president of the GIA (1988 – 1993), Aretha, at a young age, got hooked onto insurance through seeing several insurance companies’ souvenirs and meeting a host of other players.
So when it was time to go to school she focused on studying accounting, economics, and sociology for her ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels in the United Kingdom but did law for her first degree before going on to study and graduate with an MSc in Insurance and Risk Management from the City Business School, UK, in 1996.
Aretha is a pioneer of the Wits Business School Group Executive Development Programme in 1998 and was recently adjudged the Insurance Personality of the Year 2015 by the National Women in Finance Magazine Awards.
Aretha is married with two children, and says family life is very important to her. She is also a strong Christian who fellowships at the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC).
To relax, she listens to Jazz music, especially from Kenny G’s repertoire, which inspires her for good measure. Her favourite pastime is cooking: “I love to cook. When I am at home, I want the family to wholly have me and I do my own cooking.”
With less than 50 staff at the Ghana Union Assurance, she describes the office environment as “one little family.”
Expanding the reach and awareness of insurance
One of the biggest hurdles insurers face is the paucity of insurance penetration in the country, which currently stands at a paltry 2percent. As the new president of the GIA, Aretha is set to continue in the footsteps of her predecessor, Ivan Avereyireh, who has established insurance clubs with the most prominent being the club at Kanda, Accra.
“I want to take insurance to the grass roots and I think the insurance clubs is a very good idea and I would like to continue with that. I think the awareness must come from the roots as young as primary school.”
With deeper collaboration with the regulator and GIZ, the association is set to roll out the clubs across the length and breadth of the country and it is Aretha’s hope that quite a good number of pupils in primary schools would have a fair idea of what insurance is.
“I will want to see some children aspire to be insurers. Many children choose other professions because they don’t know anything about insurance. But the profession is quite elegant. If the awareness is created very young and they understand what insurance is, they would be ready to buy insurance and also enter the profession.”
She adds that during her tenure, several other measures will be undertaken to deepen the education on insurance including a journal, online magazines, social media, and plays. “We will drum home what insurance is and the importance of insurance,” she says.
Talking more about leaving a mark for her successor to follow, Aretha says she wants to establish a forensic laboratory for the industry so that false claims can be reduced to the barest minimum or entirely eliminated.
To her, false claims have been a major dent on the industry, taking away revenues that would have been used to invest and expand the scope of players. “After my first two years I want to be remembered for the forensic lab. We need that. There are forensic labs in other countries but we don’t have and so it is difficult for us to sometimes verify if a claim is legitimate or not.
Every insurer would want to be able to pay legitimate claims well and on time. But some illegitimate claims can also sometimes create holes in your books. So the forensic lab will come and address some of these issues,” she says.
Already some work has been started in this regard where she plays a crucial role. She is the Convener of the GIA Fire Committee, chaired by the Deputy Commissioner of NIC which also has a fire service executive to advise on how to create a forensic lab.
“I want to push that [forensic lab] agenda and this laboratory will have the equipments and expertise to be able to take tests to be able to ascertain whether a claim is true or false. So it would help us the insurers to be able to prove claims.”
Another issue affecting the industry is the non adherence of members to pricing regulations. It is Aretha’s hope to actively engage members to know their concerns and have the issue resolved quickly.