Olufunke Aiyepola, MD/CE of UTL Trust Management Services, a trust services company, is a lawyer with passion for the work she does. With about 9 years in leadership of the company, Olufunke has redefined trustee’s management service in Nigeria with a lot of credits. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on how people can have successful estate planning. Excerpt:
Give us an insight into UTL and the services you offer an institution?
UTL offers corporate, public and private trust services. In the corporate trust segment, we are trustees to multiple arrangement lending facilities or syndications and our role is to create and hold the security on behalf of the Lenders or Financiers until the facilities are repaid; we are also trustees to several Employee Welfare Benefits such as Share Trusts, Profit Sharing /Bonus Schemes and Superannuation Schemes for expatriates.
For public trusts, we are trustees to several Corporate and Sub-sovereign Bonds. It is a statutory requirement to appoint trustees to public debt offers. In the public trusts space, we are also trustees to several Foundations and Endowments- our services in this instance include selecting and managing beneficiaries to scholarships from secondary to tertiary education.
For Private Trusts, we are trustees and executors to quite a number of big-ticket trust arrangements and estates in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Our private trust services include Living Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Education Trusts, Family Welfare Trusts as well as other purpose Specific Trusts. We have also been appointed by several courts in different States in Nigeria to administer disputed estates. Our workforce consists of many Trusts and Estate Planning certified personnel. Having observed that for the middle class, the need for estate planning though urgent was often ignored given the general disposition towards death, we conceptualized and launched our triple award winning will writing platform-Willpower. Typically, people in that class would stop at the financial planning phase and not consider the thereafter. So, we realized the need to provide a solution that would address their challenges and ensure that they completed that cycle by securing not only their assets but also the future of their dependents. We identified the main challenges as costs/ process and provided Willpower as an affordable and simplified platform for estate planning.
With Willpower, will writing is seamless and can be done from the comfort and privacy of homes and offices, virtually anywhere. In five steps, a will can be written, thereafter printed and signed in the presence of two witnesses, delivered to UTL for review via a courier service and within 48 hours, it is duly registered and filed at the Probate Registry.
Okay. How do you link these services to the pension reform act?
The Pension Reform Act provides for death-in-service benefits, that is; the retirement savings account, the proceeds of the group life insurance and other similar benefits can only be accessed via a valid will or letters of administration. So, it is important to write a will, and in furtherance of that requirement, our RSA WILL will facilitate seamless access to a deceased employee’s assets. Thus, there is actually a link between the Reform Act and death-in-service benefits.
Quite a number of people do not see the need for wills. What do you see as the reason and how are you handling the challenge?
The apathy to will writing is a function of the cultural dispositions and myths that surround estate planning, especially in Nigeria. The reality is that death is inevitable. To encourage the adoption of Will writing in Nigeria, we have embarked on a nationwide campaign via radio jingles, short movies in English, pidgin, Yoruba and Igbo which have gone viral on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, newspaper adverts and general advocacy aside from several other activations. The campaign is aimed at effecting a change of perspective with regards to estate planning.
At what point should anybody start thinking about writing a will?
Ordinarily, any adult who is employed or engaged in a business should write a will. Also, there are some young adults who are privileged to inherit or be gifted with sizeable investments. It is pertinent that this category of persons also plan their estates. Employers should step up their welfare packages by including estate planning in their onboarding-cum-welfare processes. As soon as a person is employed, the process should commence, given the combined value of the contributory pension and life insurance proceeds.
We have observed that a lot of people consider the joint contributions of Employer and staff into the RSA as meagre. However, they need to realize that the group life insurance covers a minimum of three times the total annual emolument of an employee. For instance, if a person’s annual total emolument is about 10 million naira, the person’s portion of the group life insurance proceeds in the year that the person dies in service will be a minimum sum of 30 million naira. This is in addition to the balance of the retirement savings account that had been contributed by that individual and the employer. When gratuity and other benefits are added, it amounts to a considerable sum. A lot of people are not aware of the insurance proceeds that are added to the retirement savings account balance, so it is important that they begin to take cognizance of this. Estate planning also applies to our brothers and sisters that are trading in hundreds of millions and with profits in double digits millions that are yet to plan their estates, which includes the continuity of their businesses. They often do not appreciate that in the event of death, people who have not contributed to their efforts would be the beneficiaries of the assets that they have acquired.
So, if you have a house, a plot/plots of land, insurance benefits, stocks and holdings, interests in partnerships, business interests and even monies lent to others, all of these form part of your estate and should be properly planned for. We encourage all adults employed or engaged in business to write a will. It is important because death can come knocking on anybody’s door at any time.
In the course of our discussion, you mentioned how WillPower has made your services accessible and the innovation even got you BAFI Awards. Tell us, what does the award mean to you and why you?
I must begin by saying a big thank you to BusinessDay for recognizing the efforts we put into conceiving and launching Willpower. Like I said, WillPower was conceived to meet a need and we were much elated when it was nominated as the Best non-banking Financial Product or Service of the Year. Prior to the BAFI award, UTL had as a result of Willpower, also won two awards at the 5th Nigeria Financial Innovation Awards- the Most Innovative Trustee Company of the Year and the Trustees CEO of the Year. So, the BAFI award really crowned it for us. We are humbled and quite appreciative of being the recipient of the award. The awards and the response from the public have encouraged us to forge ahead and very soon we will be introducing other innovative digital services.
You are doing quite a lot to make your services simpler and more accessible. Tell us why customers should remain with you. What makes you unique?
UTL’s unique selling points are numerous. First among these is our fifty-three year history of protecting the future for our diverse clients. We understand the nuances of creating and protecting trusts. We understand what it takes to manage multiple interests. As a leading independent corporate trustee’ company, void of bias, we give independent and fair opinions and render fair dealings to all beneficiaries. We also have the edge of having a diverse talent pool in our institution, comprising accountants, lawyers, economists and tax experts, among others.