Hassan Bashir, Founder of Takaful Insurance of Africa, says the Kenya-based company's products can bring possibilities to many and are not exclusively for people of the Muslim faith.
The Africa Report: Why did you launch Takaful Insurance of Africa in 2011?
If someone defaults on payments, will their hands be chopped off?
There was a need for the service. I have been involved in the insurance industry since 1997, and it was something that I had become aware of. For my MBA I researched customer behaviour across the Kenyan insurance industry, and what came out was evidence of dissatisfaction and a need for honesty and ethics in the insurance products and services. I came across a lot of people who did not have insurance, or if they did they only had the basic statutory amount. They said that they did not feel comfortable with some aspects of insurance – that it did not accommodate their religious beliefs – and some people said they felt conventional insurance was a bit like gambling.
What is the difference between conventional insurance and Takaful?
The big difference is that conventional insurance is a risk-transfer model, whereas takaful is a risk-sharing model. In the case of takaful, it's more like a joint fund, where the company and shareholders are paid a portion of the premiums. The risk remains partly shared and collectively based on all those taking part in the scheme. At the end of the insurance period there is a payout, not a 'no-claims bonus', more of a dividend.
Why did you choose Kenya, which has a relatively small Muslim population?
I started in Kenya because I am Kenyan. This is the market I know – and because I saw there was a gap in the market here. I agree there are bigger markets, like Nigeria or Ethiopia, but that means there is potential to grow. Six months ago we opened an office in Somalia. We have made expressions of interest in Uganda, Djibouti and Tanzania, so we have big plans.
Is takaful only for Muslims?
No, not at all. Our products are not exclusively for people of the Muslim faith. We can serve anyone, and we do. Initially, people thought it was only for Muslims, but now around 15% of our client base is non-Muslim and we are growing.
Are people put off Islamic finance solutions by negative connotations of Islamism?
Some people in our community are ill-informed, it is true. I've been asked – directly to my face – "If someone defaults on payments, will their hands be chopped off?" People are only like this because they do not know all the information, so it is our job to educate them. There are sensitivities, which I can understand, but I believe economic development will help change minds. Extremism thrives in spaces where there is poverty and a lack of education, and where people are desperate and have nothing to do and no means of earning a livelihood. But I believe that Islamic finance can bring possibilities to many people by helping them get employment and access to finance. Look at what we are achieving with the index-based livestock takaful. We are continuously educating [pastoralists] so that they understand that the cover is in line with their religious sensitivities and this is to cushion them against the harsh weather so that they sustain their livelihoods despite the droughts that may occur from time to time. In the long run, this will answer the question you asked about the negative perceptions about Islamic finance.
Do you think Kenya will launch a sukuk this year?
I am not sure if it will be this year, but I have no doubt it will happen soon. Kenya wants to become an Islamic finance hub in the East and Central Africa region, and it is well placed to do so. ●