‘Government can’t afford to gamble with investment of pension funds’

Wilson Ideva

Wilson Ideva

With opinion divided on the utilisation of pension funds which currently stands at over N5.8 trillion, the Managing Director, Premium Pensions Limited, Wilson Ideva, in a chat with journalists in Abuja, submits that they should be invested in Nigeria for economic development rather than outside the shores of the country. CLEMENT NWOJI was there. Excerpts.

What is your view on the suggestions that pension funds should be invested outside the shores of Nigeria for safety and proper returns on investment?
I am not one of the proponents that pension funds should be invested outside Africa. We have not helped our countries and we are talking of outside investments. We need roads. I travel by roads and whenever I travel, I feel like weeping because of the deplorable state of our roads. What about the hostel development. Have you been to a typical Nigerian University hostel? Do you see how our children sleep? Have you seen the kind of hostels there? Can any one of us sleep in those hostels? I have been to hostels of some developed nations of the world. So, we want that to be replicated and it can be done. That is why we said we have to build an industry because what we are dealing with is people’s long term savings.

But we also cannot gamble with the money. We have to be sure where we are investing the money. Because the least that can happen is this, if I have saved N5.00 when I retire, let me have back my N5.00. You cannot say because you invested in infrastructure, you contributed N5.00 and now, I have N2.00 for you. Nobody can take that from you. People talk about pension assets as if it is one government money lying somewhere. It is not. These are people’s money, your money, my money and if it is possible, we can line people up and share the money among them.

So, the owners are known and it is not government’s provision. We are only holding the money in trust for them and we cannot breach the trust but we must pay them as and when due. That is the way we see it and it is in our best interest as PFAs to intervene. We are waiting for the blue print and once it is out, we will intervene. But be rest assured that we want to be sure of the safety of your funds. We don’t want to put money in one government project and tomorrow, the policy is changed and when you come to me with your walking stick, I begin to tell you stories. I will not sleep.

Why is the seeming reluctance in utilising the nation’s pension fund assets currently estimated to worth over N5.8 trillion, to redress the nation’s economic recession as done by the U.S. while in similar circumstance?
If you know the value of pension assets in the United States compared to what we have here, there is a huge difference. We have not really started. The pension industry in US has been there for years. The assets of the biggest Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) in the world which is the California PFA, are more than about two or three countries put together in Africa. So, their assets are big enough. But what we have is not big enough to take us out of what we are in today, but it can play a role and the role it can play is that it can help to fast track infrastructure deficit in this country and that is why we are talking about how we can use pension funds to intervene in terms of infrastructure.

We are looking up to a situation where every Nigerian that has Retirement Savings Account (RSA) can have a house. I keep telling people that you don’t need to have a house where the Tony Elumelus, Dangotes and Otedolas of this world have houses. But you can also have a house where you can afford.

So, we are looking up to that period and pension assets can play a major role on that. I think they are working on that and you will see it happen. We also want government to see how it can partner the regulator, National Pensions Commission (PenCom) and PFAs on infrastructure because the greatest challenge we have in this country is infrastructure. Let us take road for instance, driving from Abuja to Lagos is a nightmare. You know, you can bring toll roads into this country and see how you can work together. I mean the PFAs, how they can invest into such toll roads, it will be a win-win situation for everybody. This is necessary because when you are driving on the toll roads, you are having a smooth ride and because we collect toll, we grow our assets and have returns for the money invested. So we are looking at how it will work and everybody knows what to do. There have been a lot of discussions between the minister of power, works and housing, and PenCom on that and we are expecting a blue-print soon. We are just players and once we have the guidelines, we begin to invest.

With the current growth rate of pension sub-sector in Nigeria, especially since the regime of Contributory Pension Scheme, what do you project that the industry will look like in the next five years?
The future for the industry is quite rosy because awareness is being created on daily basis. When we started, people were not worried about their return on investment. There was nothing distinguishing Pension Fund Administrators. They were like the same, but in the last two to three years, they are beginning to distinguish themselves. Even within the industry, we know people that can pride themselves on quality service delivery. We know people, who can pride themselves on information and communications technology; we know people who can pride on timeliness of services. So, in the next five years, there is going to be much awareness. Looking at where we are coming from, the history of pension industry in Nigeria, people did not give it the chance to succeed. People thought it was one of those government things that would come and fade away. But people are now seeing the difference as confirmed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

People were surprised that despite all the challenges we have in the country, the pension industry stands out. With that alone, people are going to start giving attention to the pension industry. Retirement savings holders are going to be demanding for services in the next five years. People are going to be looking at the returns on their investment, they will be looking at their remittances and ask their employers if they have remitted their contributions. This is because it is a collective action. If your employer deducts your money and he did not remit as at when due, you are losing value for your money. So, that awareness will be created among the Retirement Savings Account (RSA) holders and in the next five years, there will be more demands from pension fund administrators on service delivery and getting things done better. We are also going to see a huge growth in the industry in the next five years. This is because our regulator, PenCom has done great work in terms of bringing financial inclusion among the non-participants for now.

We believe that in the next five years, we are going to see a growth that would be quite geometrical. I see enrolment rising to between 15 million to 20 million. I see assets under management growing to over N20 trillion. I know that starting an event is quite more difficult than climbing up. The plane has taken off in terms of the pension industry, we are not yet at cruise level, but we are almost getting to that. By the next five years, we may get to cruise level. At the cruise level, we might see a N20 trillion assets under management of pension industry. We might come close to 15 million enrolment in the industry, we might see the use of information communications technology in the next five years.

Do you think the PFAs will be ready for future challenges and remain competitive following the pension industry’s projected growth in few years time?
A pension fund administrator that wants to be competitive and want to play in the next five years, that does not want to be left behind, should be thinking of information and communications technology. What will happen is that, we are going to have a shift from what we have in employers’ schedules – employers remitting for you, to individuals making contributions through their phones.

It has happened in Kenya and Ghana and it is going to happen here. Whether you like it or not, many Nigerians have phones and know how to use such phones. Every Nigerian would be very happy if their old age is assured and the only way you can be assured of your old age is through pension. So, I see information technology playing a major role in the next five years and that will be such that even in the villages, if you have airtime of N1000, you can transfer N50 to your PFA and when you need the money, the administrator would transfer the money back to your phone.

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