Susan Oranye is the Executive Secretary of Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria. She speaks about the challenges, achievements and future of Nigeria’s pension industry in this interview with SIMON EJEMBI
How would you rate the Nigerian pension industry in comparison to other developing nations?
Unfortunately, when it comes to the pensions Nigeria does not rate very highly when compared to other developing nations. This could be due to our size as the most populous nation on the continent or the length of time we have had a well-structured pensions industry which is about 11 years old. When certain parameters are used to measure comparison such as size of pension funds as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product, Nigerian does not rank very high. In terms of pension fund assets as proportion of GDP South Africa stands at 87.96 per cent; Namibia, 77.03 per cent; Botswana, 40.05 per cent; Kenya, 13.25 per cent; Ghana, 5.35 per cent; and Nigeria, 5.06 per cent.
Many argue that very little is being done to create awareness among Nigerians on the importance of having a pension. What do you make of this view?
I think it is erroneous. PenOp as an association is particularly passionate about raising the awareness of Nigerians, especially young professionals. We are very mindful of the fact that a lot of Nigerians focus on today and do not pay much attention to how they will fare in old age or how they will cater for their loved ones when they retire. This way of thinking coupled with the bad perception of pensions due the mismanagement that plagued the old system means we have our work cut out for us as an association in raising the awareness of the safety of the CPS and importance of pensions to all Nigerian workers and this we are tackling head on through forums, social media, printed press, etc.
There is also the argument that very few people make voluntary contribution to the pension in addition to the statutory contribution. What percentage of the total pension fund in the country would you say is from voluntary contributions?
Voluntary contributions are driven by an awareness of the importance of savings and an ability to put extra part from what is demanded by law. With the current awareness levels being what it is and also taking into consideration the challenges of getting employers/employees to comply with the mandatory contribution, the voluntary contributions are not very high. Figures received from PenCom indicate that they currently stand at approximately 0.24 per cent of the total pension assets under management. I believe that this figure will change once the informal sector is fully engaged in the CPS.
In terms of compliance to the Pension Reform Act, there have been reports of companies failing to pay even after deducting from employee salaries, while many firms have yet to comply. Is this a problem and is your association doing anything to address it?
Yes, compliance has actually always been a challenge. The PRA 2014 states that it is mandatory for any employer with three or more employees but remember there are so many employers and it is almost impossible to keep track. The Regulatory body responsible for enforcing compliance is PenCom and they are dedicated to this task. The PRA 2014 has also clearly spelt out penalties for defaulting employers which PenCom enforce. It is important to point out however, that employees of such employers, who either deduct and do not remit to their employees RSA or do not deduct at all, have recourse. They must be proactive by sending details of their employers contact address (anonymously if they so wish) to PenCom’s compliance department and also to their PFAs to follow up and ensure their employers are forced to comply with the law.
Another area where there have been concerns is the investment of the pension funds. Capital market operators have lamented that pension fund administrators have refused to seriously invest in equities. What would you say is the problem?
PFAs take their role as fiduciaries of other people’s savings extremely seriously which is why they are guided by what I call the ‘’Trifecta’’ – safety, liquidity, then returns. PE offers higher returns but higher risks too. Note that we are not averse to investing in equities; however, we will only do such investments through safe instruments or vehicles. We must see that there is a very clear path of getting invested capital back, plus a fair return. Our mantra has always been safety first, followed by liquidity and return. Remember that retirees will be paid with cash, not brick or mortar. There is need for some kind of credit enhancement to make the investments more attractive. This could come by way of partial or full guarantee of say, the Federal Government of Nigeria. The current PenCom guidelines have widened the playing field by allowing for investment in many alternative asset classes, including Private Equity, infrastructure bonds/funds, mortgage backed securities etc, so there is a diversified range of assets we can invest in. The challenge is the quality of the available proposals. We emphasise safety and liquidity over return.
With the current economic challenges facing the country, are there adequate measures in place to ensure the pension funds are safe?
The way the pension system is set up under the new Scheme – Contributory Pension Scheme, there are many checks and balances put in place as measures to ensure the safety of the funds. For instance, the PFAs never have direct access to the funds contributed. These are held with the pension fund custodians who have the guaranteed backing of four of the biggest and well established banks in the country namely First PFC, Zenith PFC, Diamond PFC and UBA PFC. The Custodians transact based on the instructions of the PFAs and in line with regulations/guidelines set by PenCom. PenCom on the other hand monitors very closely the transactions made on pension funds and have set out strict guidelines on investment that further ensure the safety ad relative liquidity of the funds.
Under the current, Pension Act, and based on the retirement age, do you think Nigerians are saving enough for retirement? If not, what is the way forward?
This is a question that can only correctly answered after a survey has been carried so you have the figures, however, having said that, I think that in recent times the savings culture of Nigerians has improved somewhat. There is still a long way to go as we can be quite myopic sometimes and choose not to focus too far in future hoping that it will take care of itself. Savings can greatly be encouraged through education in pensions and retirement planning as well as a boost in salary because it is when you have excess left that you truly sae something meaningful. This highlights the importance of the CPS even more because it makes saving for the future mandatory so whether you like it or not, you can expect a pension when you retire. You may not appreciate the mandatory nature of the scheme now but having a steady source of income from savings is usually a great feeling as attested to by most of our retirees.
Now, as an association, what are you looking at improving or adding to the country’s pension industry?
As an association of pension operators, it is naturally a major focus of ours to improve Nigeria’s pensions industry through efforts that enhance service excellence and capacity building as well educating the general populace. To achieve this, PenOp has played a very active role in driving legislation that has made Pensions more inclusive for Nigerians ie from employers of five or more employees to now employers of three or more employees. PenOp is also active on social media driving the conversation with Nigerian workers, answering their questions and educating them on how the CPS works, processes involved and importance of Pensions. There is a lot of misinformation and mistrust still existing and we are tirelessly addressing peoples’ concerns. As the CPS will include the informal sector shortly, it is essential that the Operators front office staff and operations staff are well trained and PenOp has organised trainings in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt to improve and ensure the standard of service being provided by all Operators is in line with International Best Practices. PenOp has also organised extensive trainings in investment of pension funds and risk management all aimed at service excellence. We have also held fora in conjunction with key stakeholders like NECA and PenCom to educate them on the implications of the PRA 2014 on employers and employees alike. Information is Power thus we seek to empower Nigerian workers by keeping them informed enough to make wise decisions regarding the financial security of themselves and their loved ones.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in the industry and what is the biggest strength of the Nigerian pension industry?
There are a few main concerns for the industry: one, compliance with the law has been waning; rate of enrolment into the CPS has slowed down. Current enrolment stands at 6.5 million out of a population of 170 million. How can we get traction in compliance and thereby raise the number of contributors to say 20 million in the next three-five years? Two, funding of registered RSAs is becoming a challenge for many employers. Three, while our investments have been safe and returned reasonably above inflation in the past, inflation is rising and with currency devaluation, real return on investments is threatened, and four, general awareness on the importance of pensions among Nigerian workers.
I would definitely consider the young vibrant population of workers that have their whole careers and lives ahead of them a definite strength for the pensions industry as they represent a pool of funds that can be invested for economic growth. Also, the highly regulated and supervised Contributory Pension Scheme which ensures Nigerian workers can trust the system and more importantly can retire in peace and financial stability whilst maintaining a decent standard of living. Finally, the drive of the operators to ensure people’s savings are managed and administered at international best standards so there will be no repeat of the old scheme is a definite strength for the Nigerian pension industry.