Mark Collier was recently appointed the chairman of Sigma Pensions, a pension fund administrator in Nigeria. In this interview shares his thought on Nigerian pension industry, experience of other markets and future of sigma. Excerpts
You have recently been appointed the chairman of the Company; tell us about yourself and your background?
My name is Mark Collier and I have just been appointed the chairman of Sigma Pensions. I sit on a number of boards of financial services companies mostly in developing markets.
For example, I sit on the boards of companies in India, South Africa, and Nigeria and previously in Brazil and Indonesia.
So the value I bring to Sigma Pensions is the experience I have from more developed markets, where I used to work for two investment and pensions companies in the United States; one called Fidelity investments, which is a big asset manager and the other called Charles Schwab in San Francisco. So combined with that experience, and sitting on the boards of these emerging market companies, it is a great pleasure for me to be appointed chairman of a Nigerian company.
You seem excited about being chairman of a Nigerian company, what are your thoughts on Nigeria?
Nigeria I think is a fantastic country. The people are amazing and I have been coming to Nigeria once every three months in the last 2 years. The opportunities here both for the financial services industry and how it develops going forward as well as the pensions industry are enormous. And this is just the beginning of what we should expect. One of the most important things for Nigerians or anyone in the world is to save for their long-term health and their long term welfare.
Sigma is extremely well placed to do that and we are a very dynamic company. As you know, Dave Uduanu is our chief executive officer/MD who joined us about 12 months ago and already we are growing at a much faster pace than we had done previously. Also, with the recovery in the Nigerian economy, which we are already seeing a real sprout of growth.
So Sigma Pensions is a fantastic company with great people, with a great management team, lots of talent and we are well on the way of being a world class pension administration business.
What are your expectations in terms of performance?
The marketplace and the demand will determine performance, but good PFAs will perform well, and we are going to do a lot of things. Firstly, we are going to help Nigerian understand the role of pensions in their lives and the reason for saving and how to make the most of their savings. More choices as you know coming into the savings market place with the introduction of multi funds, which is going to give Nigerians who are in pension fund the decision to decide which fund they would like to be in. So there is going to be a big role for education to help Nigerians understand what the best funds for them and how they should invest. Also this would sweep their personal lives as well because as Nigeria develops, people become more sophisticated and we realise we need to make provision for our working lives and save during that process. So it’s all about customer service and servicing the needs of our clients, making sure they understand what they are investing in and making sure they feel good about their investment decision.
You mentioned earlier you sit on boards of other Pension companies, other emerging markets some more advanced than Nigeria. If you were to compare Nigeria with some of these countries, what do you think Nigerian PFAs can do to perform better?
Yes, I sit on the board of Alexander Forbes in South Africa and they have the right to claim that they are Africa’s largest pension administrator and investment Management Company as well, and therefore, it is very interesting to compare the two. Firstly, I have only spent a short period of time in Nigeria’s pension industry, whereas I have spent a longer time in South Africa. So there isn’t that familiarity yet about Nigeria or indeed the understanding of the Nigerian market. But if you were to contrast, South Africa with Nigeria, there is that gap in education about pensions. While the South African Pension Administration has done that well long ago, it is just beginning here in Nigeria. So there is probably 20 to 30 years gap but the interesting thing now is that modern technology today closes that gap dramatically. Therefore, the tools, which we have today – the web, ipads, digital information, branch networks makes the difference and can close that gap in a short period.
So within a few years, I fully expect the difference between the South African Pension environment and the Nigerian one would be completely closed. Nigeria is a much larger population and it has and would have a much larger economy over time so the opportunity here for the pensions industry and for Sigma particularly is very strong.
I understand your company has some ambitious goals for the year 2020. Can you speak on them?
We have some ambitious stretch goals that the management team has embraced obviously, which I can’t divulge, but we intend to be definitely within the top three pension administrator here by assets under management and by number of customer. So that is one of our top priorities and our goal, and at the same time help Nigerians really feel comfortable about their investments and how their money is being invested.
What is your outlook for Sigma Pensions?
For our outlook, I think continued prosperity for our customers by working hard to ensure that we manage their money very well and that they really understand us. So the future looks very bright along with the prospects for Nigeria along with the recovery in the economy and all the good things taking place in this country. I think is all good for everybody.