In 2004 with just a Bachelors in Business Administration and keen interest in finance, Saulo Sseremba was a mere lecturer at Makerere University Business School (Mubs).
His long term goal was to be a banker and live a good life. After four years of teaching, he was pushed into new frontiers to lecture insurance and microfinance. It was a challenge he took by the horns by pursuing a Post-graduate Diploma in Microfinance at the College of Insurance in Kenya. Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer of the Insurance Institute of Uganda (IIU); giving the kiss of life to the 54-year-old institution.
In 2012, IIU was so small that only four people were staff. The secretariat was squeezed in the boys’ quarters of the Uganda Insurer’s Association at Kololo with enrolment of about 50 to 60 students. They were nomads of a sort conducting trainings at Buganda Road Primary School, Christ the King hall or at the Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology (UICT) at Nakawa.
However, IIU now has more than 800 students with five departments; 20 secretariat staff, three full-time teachers and 47 part-timers.
He was appointed acting chief executive officer (CEO) in 2016 following the resignation of Elvis Khisa. A year later, Sseremba was installed the full CEO. He inherited an institute that was running a Shs500m budget and today he manages a Shs7b budget.
At the end of 2018, the institute plans to move from the rented facility in industrial area to their new home. But all this has been achieved by someone who never had passion for insurance.
How he fell in love with insurance
Most people talk of a turning point that occurred in their lives. For Sseremba, it was a very personal conviction that made him realise how truly important insurance is. While teaching Insurance and Microfinance at MUBS, he realised a greater calling.
“This career, most importantly, involves stepping into the lives of people when they need us the most. I realised that we do so much more than just sell a piece of paper with a promise on it to pay,” he says.
As insurers, he adds, they ease the financial burden in case of tragedy becoming the face-to-face person who steps in to explain things, to advise, and help ahead of time to prepare before tragedies happen.
Learning the hard way
Sseremba decided to leave his teaching job at Mubs to start working as a commission agent for Sanlam and later Britam insurance companies.
“I went to Sanlam to know how things work in life insurance,” he says of his work in 2009. He was earning between Shs2,000-3,000 as commission for every policy he sold which was topped with a Shs600,000 retainer.
One year later, he was promoted to manager but left for Britam, where he stayed until 2012. “I do not mind taking even the lowest position provided it is the training I need to get where I want,” he said.
In 2012 when he was appointed the head of training at the institute, he secured accreditation from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) and helped design the institute’s training programmes. This changed his perception greatly. “As an employee, you mind the salary and allowances yet as a leader you think strategically first by having quality workforce,” he says.
“I never grew up wanting to be an insurance agent. Honestly, I do not think I have ever met anyone who has. When people hear the word “Insurance”, it is usually followed by a combination of groaning and griping. Even people who joined insurance came in as a by the way but have now made a total turnaround,” he says.
The institute has 101 corporate members including insurers, brokers, agents, health insurance providers, risk assessors and banks as well as more than 2,000 individual members.
Although insurance penetration remains low, Sseremba’s hope is in the recent progress of micro insurance. Takaful, which is Islamic insurance and Bancassurance are among the tailor-made products he says are set to change the landscape.
He is now fulltime in insurance and plans to transform the institute into a college.
The courses are subsidised through the training levy that comes off every insurance policy sold around the country. The beginners course, Certificate of Proficiency costs Shs500,000.
“Does that mean I know everything? Absolutely not. But knowing that it is up to me to keep people educated gives me a purpose and something greater than myself, Sseremba asserts”
Every successful person in this world started somewhere. This was Sseremba’s first high profile appointment from a head of training and he attributes this success to the support of Prof Samuel Sejaaka, the proprietor of Abacus Business School and Ronald Zaake, the proprietor of A-Plus Funeral services who have acted as his mentors.
Investments that matter
Married since 2009 with four children, the 38-year-old invests his money in securities, shares and real estate saying conventional businesses need a lot of supervision.
Although he seems to have achieved everything, he counts those as small successes and is still waiting for his “big chance”.
“When people are hopeless and defeated, it makes everyone sad, but if I can prevent just one person from feeling that way, then that is all the success I could ever ask for,” he says.