Sanlam's Bellville head office in the Western Cape. Picture: David Ritchie.

Johannesburg - South Africa's largest insurer Sanlam plans to conclude three or four acquisitions in other African countries this year as it chases faster-growing markets, a senior official said.

Sanlam, which already has businesses in 10 English-speaking countries on the continent, is turning its focus to neighbouring Portuguese-speaking nations and further afield to north Africa, its head of business outside South Africa said.

“I would hope to have one wrapped up either in Mozambique or in Angola. I would hope for one or two in east Africa,” Sanlam's Margaret Dawes told the Reuters Africa Summit.

“Three or four I would hope.”

Chief executive Johan van Zyl said last month Sanlam had a $374 million kitty to spend on purchases in Africa and Asia.

The company is moving into other countries to hedge against a maturing South African home market.

Sanlam is separately hoping to conclude a transaction to buy Malawi-owned Nico's general insurance operations in four African countries by next month.

The bulk of that deal has been completed, with only Tanzanian regulatory approval still pending, Dawes said.

The insurer, South Africa's No.1 by market value, is also looking to increase its controlling stake in Kenya's Pan Africa Insurance.

Sanlam's key southern African markets are South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Dawes said Sanlam's target was for its African operations outside southern Africa to contribute 20 percent of profit in five years' time, from 9 percent in 2013.

The uptake of insurance in most African countries has been sluggish, with less than 1 percent of the continent's population having life cover.

Many people on the continent distrust insurance or see no need for cover, choosing instead to rely on their families.

It is also taboo to discuss death in many African cultures, which makes funeral policies a hard sell in countries such as Uganda and Tanzania, where savings products fare better.

They are, however, popular in countries such as Ghana and South Africa, where elaborate funerals are a sign of respect.

Across the continent, insurance companies are innovating to tap into the growing African market with products such as micro-insurance, where people buy cover in small daily premiums payable on mobile phones. - Reuters