Strategic succession planning sees Nelson Rwihula take on CEO role

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Nelson Rwihula, the CFO of UAP Insurance Tanzania, was appointed chief executive of the company in January 2024, subject to regulatory approval, which has now been obtained.

Nelson Rwihula, the CFO of UAP Insurance Tanzania, was appointed chief executive of the company in January 2024, subject to regulatory approval, which has now been obtained. Chief accountant Johnson Macha is acting CFO while the board seeks a replacement for Nelson.

Speaking exclusively to CFO East Africa, Nelson revealed that the appointment was part of a succession plan over the past two years. The previous CEO Donald Muthe retired in late 2023.

“Because of the succession plan, the appointment was not a surprise. The news of my appointment was very significant for me as I recognise the responsibility that comes with being in this position. I reflected on the fact that people believe in me to make a success of running the company,” he said.

UAP in Tanzania is part of the Old Mutual East Africa Group and specialises in general insurance. The company, which has over 60 employees, competes in a fragmented market of over 30 players and although they have managed to deliver double digit growth on an annual basis, Nelson indicated that they can do even better. Besides continued growth, he stated that his team is the number one priority.

“Whereas you make decisions as a company leadership, you are not fully in control of the implementation of those decisions. Your people need to be motivated to understand the strategy and to take it down the ranks to ensure everybody is aligned to where you want to go and how you intend to get there,” Nelson explained.

“In my role as CEO, I will also prioritise sustainability of the company to ensure we are relevant in five years’ time. To achieve this, we will need to think about alternative distribution channels taking into account technological advancements such as artificial intelligence,” he added.

Prior to his appointment, Nelson was the CFO of UAP in Tanzania for over five years. He found that the CFO of an insurance company differs from finance leaders in other industries given the span of work they need to be involved in.

“As a banking CFO, you are mostly concerned with the financial statements, internal controls and finance related strategy items. The CFO of an insurance company is seen as the deputy CEO, who shares responsibility for the optimal functioning of the company. You are required to mix with the market and relevant stakeholders and intermediaries,” he explained.

Nelson’s stint in the insurance industry has included participating in a major turnaround where systems, people and strategy needed to change. Whereas it was exciting, he also counts this experience as a low point given the number of people they had to let go.

“My high point was hitting targets. We needed to do a balance sheet restructure and in the first year we had many provisions and write offs which were painful to report. However, in the second year we had a good-looking balance sheet with positive ratios which I count as a career success,” he said.

To achieve career success, Nelson advises professionals to spend as much time as possible on people. “Trusting others to handle your workload, frees you up to think on strategy,” he said.

“In the two years leading to my CEO appointment, I trained others to handle my finance tasks such that I was freed up to do up to 50 percent of the CEOs job in strategy execution, market engagement and operations. Many CFOs have been doing numbers all their career and struggle to let go; I would advise them to delegate more so as to progress their careers to more strategic spaces,” he concluded.

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