When two South African-born brothers, Andrew and Robert Lewis, sold their African insurance business, Global Alliance, to the Barclays Group in Mozambique, they might have taken early retirement, bought a couple of yachts and a desert island and settled into a life of ease. Instead, they each invested $25m and set up a reinsurance company to serve local and international clients, bringing together global capacity and African knowledge.
Although they are sixth-generation South Africans, the brothers opted to place the headquarters of their new business, OneRe, in London. The pull of the global hub for the international insurance industry was stronger than to familiar Johannesburg, or Mauritius with its easy tax regime.
Meeting with OneRe's chief executive, Andrew Lewis, New African learnt more about the beginnings of the new company which, at the beginning of the year, acquired regulatory approval from both the Bank of England's Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, the first reinsurer approved under Britain's new system of financial regulation.
OneRe is based on the experience of an antecedent company, Global Alliance. As Lewis explained, they "had three insurance licences for Global Alliance, one each in Ghana, Angola and Mozambique. The business wrote all classes of insurance including life insurance but our main focus was cover for global investor companies in Africa, many of the very large brands that have invested in a range of sectors from the energy side, right the way through to the brewers, to the construction companies and various others."
Perhaps predictably, Lewis preferred not to be drawn on naming the brands and the companies that Global Alliance was writing insurance for, but gave every indication that it was focused on the top tier of corporates.
"I would say, of the top 100 companies operating in those territories, we did business with about 80% of them. The business was very good for us and we became one of the biggest insurance companies in Mozambique and certainly the largest private insurance company in Angola. We were constrained in Angola because the country's oil companies' business was always controlled by state insurance companies.
"However, I would say that both markets are very fast-growing, and we did exceptionally well. Then, in 2010, we were approached by Barclays. They were looking to expand their bank insurance offerings, and they made an offer which we accepted.
"We took the...