Santam sells Lion stake

2009-08-11 15:48

Cape Town - Short-term insurance giant Santam has sold its 35% stake in black-owned insurance specialist Lion of Africa to equity partners Brimstone Investment Corporation and Commlife Holdings.

The transaction, announced on Tuesday, means that Brimstone pushes its stake in Lion of Africa from 39% to 60% and Commlife shifts its 26% stake to 40%.

The value of the transaction was not disclosed. However, Brimstone's 2008 annual report valued its 39% stake in Lion of Africa at R68m, which infers a value of about R175m for the short-term insurance group.

Based on this valuation, estimated Sanlam sold its stake in Lion for anything between R55m to R75m.

The deal comes 10 years almost to the day after the formation of Lion of Africa as a black-controlled, short-term insurance company.

At that stage not many pundits gave Lion of Africa any real chance of survival, even though it secured an equity partnership with Guardian National (which was later taken over by Santam).

Brimstone CEO Mustaq Brey said the share sale transaction would bolster Lion of Africa's credentials as a wholly-owned black economic empowerment (BEE) short-term insurer.

The exit of Santam - a subsidiary of life assurance giant Sanlam - from Lion of Africa also removed a possible point of conflict within the greater Brimstone empire.

Brimstone is one of the official empowerment partners at Old Mutual, which owns short-term insurer Mutual & Federal. Old Mutual and Sanlam are major rivals in SA, while Mutual & Federal and Sanlam are the two biggest players in the short-term insurance market.

But Brey paid homage to co-shareholder Santam, which had been instrumental in establishing Lion of Africa's business and credentials in the South African market.

"Brimstone and Commlife, both black-owned companies, together with Santam have built another black company from start, created wealth and more than 100 jobs as well as contributed to a transformed insurance landscape."

Brey said the timing of the transaction was an opportunity for the company to assume its independence and move confidently into its next phase of growth.

"From a Brimstone perspective, the transaction is congruent with the company's strategic intent to restructure select assets within its portfolio to facilitate and enhance shareholder returns."

Lion of Africa could well broaden its service offering to include asset management, assurance and other specialist financial services.

In this regard it is interesting to note that Commlife owns Lion of Africa Assurance and Lion of Africa Asset Management. The latter broadened its mandate considerably in July by acquiring a 50% stake in specialist fund manager Trident Capital (founded by well-known asset manager Kimon Boyiatjis).

Brey told there were no plans for Brimstone to acquire Commlife's various Lion of Africa interests. "But one has to acknowledge that a company can't stay the same forever," he said.