the math teacher who invented Sunu Insurance

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(Ecofin Agency) – This January 12 in Paris, the Franco-Senegalese Pathé Dione died. If you didn’t know his name, it’s simply because the man cultivated discretion. A true pioneer of insurance in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa Pathé Dione is the man who gave birth to and grow Sunu Assurance.

“Pathé Dione is deceased. » Announced by the vast majority of economic media covering the continent, the news spread like wildfire in African financial circles. For finance and insurance laypersons, this may be the first time the name has been heard. No wonder when you know how much effort the man made to be discreet. This desire for discretion, he perhaps owes it to his soldier father or else, was it the self-effacement that characterizes the mathematics teacher that the native of Dakar dreamed of becoming. It doesn’t matter, and even fortunately, that Pathé Dione did not end up being a soldier or a teacher. Thanks to him, thousands of Africans now have access to a continental insurance offer and many other financial services.

For the love of math

The story of Pathé Dione began in 1942 in Dakar, in the heart of colonial Senegal, where he was born. As soon as he was old enough to go to school, his father, then a soldier in the French army, enrolled him in a school in his town. He did his primary and secondary studies there, before leaving for France where he studied mathematics and dreamed of becoming a teacher. The young Senegalese realizes his dream and becomes a mathematics teacher from 1966 at the age of 24. A cooperation program allows him to teach in Chad for 6 years. When he returns, he wants to continue his studies. “Only, I was already the head of the family. I could not go back to university studies, especially in the field of economics, full time. I then found a job with the mutual insurance companies in Le Mans, at the time it was called Mutuelles Générales Françaises, while studying. This is where I discovered the profession of insurer.he reveals in an interview with Financial Afrik. At this time, he does not yet know how important insurance will be to play in his life. “I had no ambition to stay in this profession”, he confides. At the time, he thought he was just using this job to pay for his studies and support himself. When he obtained his doctorate in economics at the Sorbonne in 1980, the management of the mutual insurance company in Le Mans advised him to take training in the field of insurance.

Insurance, its second birth

“I was told that I would benefit from getting to know the sector because the mathematics that I liked had a large place there. They pushed me to take the entrance exam to the National School of Insurance in Paris. Once successful, I was asked to do the higher cycle which lasted two years and then the equivalent of a 3rd cycle at the Center des Hautes Etudes d’Assurances”, says Pathé Dione. He graduated there in 1979 and was immediately hired by an American group, Cigna Corporation. In 1980, his new employer sent him to the Ivory Coast to create a subsidiary there, La Colina. It will later become Saham, Sunu’s main competitor. His work at Cigna Corporation brought him to the notice of the Union des Assurances de Paris, which made Pathé Dione its Africa director from 1984 to 1997, when Axa, another insurer, assimilated UAP after an acquisition. But Axa is essentially targeting Asia. “I understood that Axa did not really have a project for the African continent which was under my responsibility for several years. I said to myself that something had to be done”says Pathé Dione.

Pathé Dione then thought of creating a pan-African insurer which would take over the African subsidiaries of the former UAP. After several requests, Claude Bébéar, one of the main protagonists in the creation of the Axa group, acceded to Pathé Dione’s request and even provided him with technical assistance. With this boost and his international experience, the Senegalese has no trouble borrowing from banks, including the Belgian Fortis. In 1998, at the age of 57, Pathé Dione abandoned the comfort of an established career and many certainties to create the Sunu group, with the aim of making it a leading player in the African insurance market. “We created the company in Luxembourg simply because at the time this country had a law that facilitated the creation of companies and we were exempt from taxes”, recalls Pathé Dione. A few months later, in 1999, to the great surprise of the markets, Sunu Finances, the group’s parent company, acquired 5 of Axa’s subsidiaries.

An unprecedented adventure in the African bancassurance sector

10 years after its creation, the Sunu group has grown. It includes 15 companies. Pathé Dione entrusts the management of this nascent empire to directors assisted by a board of directors. They oversee nearly 800 employees who help generate at the end of the 2007 financial year with a turnover of 78 million euros.

At the end of the financial year ended December 31, 2020, we had just over 4,000 employees. The group is established in 16 countries in French-speaking and English-speaking sub-Saharan Africa and is made up of 29 companies, eight life insurance companies, 15 non-life insurance companies, a bank, a microfinance company and a health management company. “, exposes Pathé Dione in 2021. The group claims at that time a turnover of 315 million euros. It is now the leader in life insurance in the CIMA zone (inter-African conference of insurance markets).

After having diversified its activities by creating Sunu Banque Togo and by buying, in Senegal, 54.11% of the shares of BICIS, the local subsidiary of BNP Paribas, Pathé Dione hands over the baton to Mohamed Bah, deputy general manager of the Sunu bancassurance group. , to rule the empire he built. The heir to Pathé Dione’s will is a mathematician like him, even if, after handing over to him, the Senegalese does not completely distance himself from his group. Pathé Dione has indeed remained chairman of Sunu’s board of directors.

The native of Dakar also goes down in history for his attachment to Africa, he who was proud of not having “not a single franc invested outside the continent”.

Servan Ahougnon


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