BusinessDay

“I am seriously committed to the grooming of the next generation of women entrepreneurs and professionals”

Dr. (Mrs.) Funmi Babington-Ashaye, Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Risk Analyst Insurance Brokers Limited

Can you share with us a little about your professional profile?
My name is Dr. (Mrs.) Funmi Babington-Ashaye, Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Risk Analyst Insurance Brokers Limited, is one of the leading insurance brokerage firms in the country. In terms of education, I attended Methodist Primary School, Yaba, Lagos and Lisabi Grammar School, Abeokuta for my high school education. For my tertiary education, I attended the Lagos State Polytechnic where I emerged as the best graduating Higher National Diploma student in Insurance Department in 1987.

In the same year 1987, I passed the final level of the UK’s Chartered Insurance Institute’s professional qualifying examinations with a lot of awards including the prestigious JC’s Lepine Prize Award. I started my insurance working career with Royal Exchange Assurance Plc as an Insurance Superintendent in 1987 and later joined Cornerstone Insurance PLC as a pioneer staff in 1991. Through dint of hardwork and exceptional performance, I rose through the ranks and became the MD/CEO of the company within fifteen years. Let me humbly add that I am also an Alumnus of Ambrose Alli University; Lagos Business School; a Fellow of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria and United Kingdom; a Council member of the Institute of Directors of Nigeria, the 48th President of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria; a Past President of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, Lagos Chapter (an international organisation of entrepreneurs with headquarters in Virginia USA), member of Ikoyi Club 1938 as well as an active member of the Professional Insurance Ladies Association. After a comprehensive review, by a team of renowned academics, of my numerous articles in local and international journals on Insurance and Risk Management as well as my book, “Insurance in Practice: All you need to know about Insurance in Nigeria” published in 2017, I was conferred with a Doctoral Fellowship by the International Certified Risk Management Professionals, United Kingdom. This Doctor of Philosophy degree by Publication was in appreciation of my immense contributions to knowledge in the areas of Insurance, Actuarial Science and Risk Management. In 2021, I also was conferred with Honorary Doctorate in Leadership & Community Development by ESAE Benin University.

Women are known for seeking ways to educate, empower and contribute to the society; can you say that the womenfolk are performing up to expectation in Nigeria?
Considering the current hardship and economic challenges, I give it to the womenfolk because many of them are now the bedrock of their families. I dare say that many of them are performing beyond expectations. In addition to the fact that many financial institutions in the country are now headed by accomplished women, go to marketplaces, visit street corners, construction sites and bus-stops, you will find other less endowed women struggling to earn a living by applying themselves to whatever they find to do. They want to be educated and empowered to contribute to the economic development process. They need financial support and mentoring for them to become entrepreneurs. They need training on how to manage businesses. Their micro and small businesses can be supported by financial institutions if they are encouraged to form cooperative societies.

Women constitute almost 55% of the population and therefore have a great role to play in national development and by extension, nation building. The government must adequately resource the Women Affairs Ministry so that it can play its envisaged role more than it is currently doing. Women Cooperative clusters in various trades need to be created and provided with resources to boost their contributions to the nation’s gross domestic product.

There is no doubt that the government cannot do it alone considering the various contending challenges and scarcity of resources. In appreciation of this, I resolved to play my modest part by giving back to society. In pursuance of this, I founded the Funmi Babington-Ashaye (FBA) Foundation on February 8, 2015 with the aim of offering support to indigent and brilliant young ladies to pursue tertiary education, mentoring younger women and those growing in the profession. In the last 6 years, FBA Foundation has successfully given scholarships to over 1000 eligible students of the University of Lagos, Lagos State Polytechnic and Lisabi Junior and Senior School, Abeokuta, which happens to be my Alma mater, in order to promote excellence in Education in Nigeria. As more eligible candidates emerge and resource permit, more scholarships will annually be awarded by the Foundation. To reinforce these initiatives, I also personally mentor female executives by building and honing their skills to achieve success both at work and at home under the auspices of FBA Foundation Mentorship Program which started in year 2020. The aim of the Programme is to facilitate exciting, new professional and personal opportunities for everyone involved. Pursuant to this, the Foundation recently held a Webinar on “Insurance in the new normal” to help insurance professionals to identify challenges posed by the COVID-19 Pandemic and how to chart a new course to remain relevant in the global insurance ecosystem. I am seriously committed to the grooming of the next generation of women entrepreneurs and professionals both in the insurance industry and other sectors because of their invaluable roles in the society. My vision is to raise distinctive leaders globally through this mentorship initiative. I am persuaded that we can make the most of the opportunity to build mentees’ businesses, skills, profiles and networks and rev their contributions to national development.

With the various top positions mostly dominated by the men, what qualities or ways do you think are required or needed for a woman to be at the top?
As you may have observed, it is easy for women to gain employment at the lower levels of the organization; the challenge is for them to reach middle, senior and c-suite level. To put it mildly, women in top leadership positions are still noticeable by their scarcity. Therefore, succession plans in corporate entities should encourage diversity and gender balance for women to reach their ultimate. However, to leverage such opportunity when it comes, as a woman, you need knowledge, new knowledge and the confidence to excel. With knowledge and skills, you still need to work extra hard to earn the respect of your male colleagues. Therefore, you must consistently strive to remain a star performer by making excellence your habit. Truly speaking, the environment is very challenging and hostile to women even when men say we are the weaker vessel. I dare say that, we are not the weaker vessel. We are as strong as our male folks. To carry a human inside you (pregnancy) for nine months, is not evidence of weakness. Women have ruled great nations like UK, Germany, India, etc. As a woman desirous of success, therefore, you must know your onions, work hard and consistently deliver premium performance. So, up-to-date knowledge, diligence, consistency and being principled are crucial to a woman’s success. As a woman, do not allow anyone to despise your competence or quality. Prove it all the time, that you truly earned your position.

Can you tell us about your position as the Managing Director, Risk Analyst Insurance Brokers Limited?
When I decided to set up Risk Analyst Insurance Brokers Ltd after my stint as MD/CEO of Cornerstone Insurance PLC and NICON Insurance PLC, it was to bridge the observed information gap between insurers and potential policy buyers who often do not quite understand the terms and conditions guiding the policy they desire to purchase and how to obtain the benefits when the unexpected occurs. Through my leadership, the company has succeeded in doing this by providing invaluable support to the insurance value chain so that potential policy buyers can easily be supported to make optimum policy choices. Our role as Brokers is to breakdown the policy into simple terms, explain its benefits and provide the potential policy buyer with rich information to make decisions. We also work with underwriters to develop unique products that will satisfy the needs of some stakeholders. Furthermore, for me as Managing Director, I strongly believe that there is need to invest and inspire people beyond the fulfilment of self-employment. So in addition to providing employment opportunities, I ensure that the work environment of Risk Analyst also offers young Nigerians opportunities to train and acquire insurance skills required by the industry and economy. We are conscious of the dynamics of the business environment and are strategically creating the future we desire through our investment in research and development and the training of our people. In the decades ahead, we look forward to enhancing our market share and consolidating on areas where we have competitive advantage.

As a mother, wife and career woman, how have you been able to manage all these responsibilities and still able to maintain a successful career?
As a female professional, let me state that the road to success for the average professional woman is very stressful and challenging to her intellect, physique and character. It requires God’s grace and endurance to be able to play our natural roles of wife, mother and governess simultaneously. No matter your set professional goal, you must not, as a woman, allow your responsibilities to your husband, children, elderly parents and others, to suffer. If the home front is at peace, you will enjoy the support of immediate and extended family members and the confidence of colleagues at work. These were my values and luckily I had a very understanding, supportive and caring husband who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. The need to have a very good support system cannot be over emphasized.

What would you describe as the greatest passion that has brought you this far in your career?
In simple terms, it is the desire to lend a helping hand, openness, transparency and a commitment to sustain the trust of clients. As you know, insurance is about trust. You sell an intangible asset for a promised protection. When the unexpected happens, you must be there to comfort and reassure your client (the insured) that “all will be well”. No excuses. The insured must be supported and restored to his/her previous situation as promised in the insurance policy. In all my dealings with underwriters and the insured (both potential and existing), I remain open and transparent to earn their trust. So, what has brought me thus far, is commitment to and delivery of excellent service based on trust and technical competence. I walk my talk.

With the prevailing harsh economic environment, especially with the global economic crisis, how can you describe your experience in the last few years as regards your role in the running of your organization in particular, and the industry where you operate in general?
In this male-dominated business environment and Industry, it has not been easy surviving and making a breakthrough. The business environment has been harsh and difficult particularly because underwriters sell intangible, but useful service.
There are challenges but as someone who has served and led in various board rooms, I have been able to leverage my experience to overcome them. Learning the ropes is key.
Let me seize this opportunity to give credit to my late husband, Prince Adebajo Abiodun Babington-Ashaye, FCA, Past President of ICAN who inspired and prepared me for leadership position. When he was alive, each time I had boardroom challenges and critical business decisions to make, we would both sit down engage and review all aspects of the matters, identify options and zero-in on what the optimum decision and line of action should be. I learnt a lot from him including people management and how to build inclusive leadership. He would always insist that taking decisions in a hurry could be disastrous. His model was: identify the challenge and the contending issues involved; evaluate the various options (and their possible impact) based on available information. Based on the critical assessment and the resources available, take decision by selecting option(s) with optimal benefits. This model has continued to be useful to me.

Do you think social media has a bad influence on the society especially on the girl-child?
In terms of access to information and learning opportunities, the social media is very good. However, there are a lot of trash and obscene contents in social media that can derail the girl-child and negatively impact the society. Sincerely speaking, parents must learn to “censor” what their children watch and read in addition to teaching them the right family values. Charity must begin at home. If you do not teach your children as a parent, they will learn bad values from social media and peer groups. No matter how busy you are, as a parent, please create time to engage your children.

What advice do you have for upcoming women professionals aspiring to be like you?
There is no short cut to success. Young girls, with the guidance of their parents, should think about their career and future. They should remain focused on what they set out to do and seek for mentorship and coaching opportunities. They must learn to dress decently too and be wary of the negative influence of peer groups. The way they dress is the way they will be addressed. They should take more interest in reading, studying and scanning the environment and envision the type of future they desire and pursue it with their might. It is often said that a person’s attitude will determine her altitude. So, they must develop the right values and attitude. Working hard is key.

Hardwork does not kill, it keeps you trim and indeed, prepares you for better opportunities. When an opportunity comes, you would be ready to grab it with both hands. As a young lady and a growing Christian, I was fascinated by the issue of trust and fidelity. Incidentally, these were and still are the values that underlie Insurance.

So I took interest and studied Insurance in the tertiary institution and subsequently, pursued a career in the field. All my working life which spanned over 35 years have been in the Insurance Industry. I followed my passion with vigour. They should follow their passion with appropriate guidance and mentoring. Finally, to succeed, whatever they set out to do must be aimed at solving a problem in society or meeting the needs of specific stakeholders. the opportunities offered by FBA Foundation. As I stated earlier, the Foundation provides learning and career opportunities for its members, business insights in networking platforms, one-on-one mentoring program, personal and development fora. It also holds focused-retreats as well as continuous discussions on how to maintain work life balance especially for upwardly mobile ladies. I am satisfied and proud of the achievements of my mentees over the years in their career and family lives. So, I invite young ladies to latch in on these initiatives to change their narratives for the best.
Also, as part of our social corporate responsibility at Funmi Babington-Ashaye Foundation, we realized the need to join our voice to the global menace of poor mental Health, depression and most especially post-partum depression.

There are lots of misconception around mental health and post partum depression. On the 19th November 2022, our foundation organized a walkathon to create awareness to equip members of the public with necessary information to prevent further spread of the menace. Recently, there have been several cases of suicide globally and Nigeria in particular.

To all women, “Trust yourself, if you don’t learn to trust yourself, you will never be happy. You’ll always be deferring our authority to someone or something outside of you.” – Paul Selig.
You are much more!!! See you at the top.