Head start in life
Head start in life Editorial: Colin Chinery Production: Ajuanne Payne
Respected market leader in the low and middle income groups, Assupol Life last year became a public company, committed to its heritage and core principles and now reaching out to new and wider sectors. It is a strategy which, in the words of its CEO Bridget MokwenaHalala, is set to make “the colourful and successful history of Assupol even better.” Hosting the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival in the heart of Soweto last year, Assupol was honouring a South African legend and also celebrating a national heritage of which the iconic insurer itself has long been a part. Masekela, a brand ambassador for Assupol, has been part of the company’s advertising campaigns over the last two years. For 100 years Assupol Life has been providing insurance products to the police force, and since the late 80’s to all South Africans. Its products include life, disability, accident, and funeral cover – a lead product - savings, retirement and investment policies. Some 90% of its 520,000 individual life policies are Black, previously disadvantaged and mostly from lower and middle income segments. “Assupol is a proudly South African company with our roots firmly in South Africa,” says its CEO Bridget Mokwena-Halala. “We sell products designed for South Africans, by South Africans, and we pride ourselves in knowing what our people need.
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“In Assupol we have a slogan – ‘Proud to Serve Those Who Serve’ - and just as Hugh Masekela, we have gone back to where we come from. And because we know the people and their needs, we have been hugely successful in serving those needs.” Last year the centenarian South African financial institution - part of the holding Assupol Group completed a demutualisation process that began in 2010, converting into a public company with share capital. It was a move that has benefited both policy holders and Assupol. “It was very important for us to do this because we are performing extremely well on the sales side. And the more policies we sell the greater liability the company has to carry. “If we want to raise capital to expand our operations there was no way we could approach policy holders and ask them to capitalise the company. So we had to demutualise in order to get shareholders to come on board and provide the capital required.
REWARDING SUCCESS “Even if we did exceptionally well, policy holders would have never benefited aside from when they submitted a claim. Some 300,000 policy holders qualified for free shares, and it was encouraging to see people who had contributed to the company’s growth getting a monetary reward for their commitment and loyalty.” With the option of retaining these shares or selling, all but 12,000 sold. “Selling, and thereby accessing cash, has been one of the benefits of demutualisation.” says Ms Mokwena-Halala, mother of two and a former police officer who joined the company 18 years ago initially as a part-time agent to augment her small salary. “More than 80% of those policy holders were Black, so when we talk about empowerment then we have empowered a lot of people. And we are seeing the spin-off of the shares we have paid out, with many clients referring their family members to us.” Established in 1913 as a burial society for members of the South African police, correctional services and other
government employees, Assupol Life has grown to cater for the general public, becoming the leader in tailor-made insurance products for the low and middle income groups. “We have been in the market for over 100 years, understand it, and research, develop and design products that our clients want and need. We also carry the flag in the assistance business group scheme arena, where we have around 310 groups with over one million policy holders covering more than 3.5 million lives, making us the leader in this market.” Pretoria-based Assupol, says Ms Mokwena-Halala, has always been proud of its track record and providing value for money. “We have been fair in our dealings with our clients, transparent in our selling process and - most importantly - we have always looked for reasons to pay claims. “In terms of turn-around times, we consider ourselves as leaders. We were first to introduce the 48 hour turnaround, and this is now the market norm. In fact 78% of the claims we received in the first half of the current
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financial year were paid within seven to eight hours.”
COMPETITIVE EDGE Assupol’s products says its CEO, are both straightforward and understandable. “We have a saying within the company that we need to look for reasons to pay. And this has given us a very good competitive edge. Brokers are telling us that in a highly competitive market they are more comfortable to write our products because of the turn-around time.” Phasing in with one big step - demutualisation – was another; a major branch refurbishment and staff upskilling programme. “The new look Assupol offices have been an inspiration to our employees. “And the message to our clients is that we want them to feel comfortable and ‘at home’, and by empowering our people, improving the client service experience at our 80 branches.” And multi- skilling is having multiple spin offs. “Our employees are valued, the time and skills invested in them providing both personal growth and enhanced service delivery to our clients. Ultimately this will lead to a 360 degree investment, benefitting all parties; employee, client and company.” Looking ahead to the next three years Assupol’s CEO says product enhancement and diversification will be the focus areas. “As a niche insurer we have done very well
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in our core market and we plan to extend our services to other markets. We believe we have the winning recipe that will make us succeed. “While I’m proud to say that our products operate in the lower to middle income sector, they are suitable for all. In terms of markets we are very strong in Government department - a focus area - and now we want to diversify to others beyond our big four, also targeting parastatals such as Eskom and Telkom. “The economic conditions are tough, but we have been through tough conditions in the past and performed well, and we believe there is growth in South Africa and a need,” a view sharply borne out by the 2013 Gap study commissioned by the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) showing that South Africans remain critically underinsured.
LIFE AFTER DEATH “In Black communities a funeral policy is very important, and this is the reason why the majority of our clients choose to take out a funeral policy before considering other types. But our approach is quite different because we need to encourage them that there is life after death. “There are policies you can take to supplement the retirement benefit for example, and with a 42% growth in Life Cover sales, it shows our efforts to educate the client are bearing fruit.”
Assupol Life The 100 year history of Assupol, says Ms MokwenaHalala, is “inspirational. Our employees draw energy from our history, they are proud of our journey and have adopted our future as a joint project where we will partner in making the colourful and successful history of Assupol even better.”
“We sell products designed for South Africans, by South Africans, and we pride ourselves in knowing what our people need” It is a theme echoing Hugh Masekela ‘sixties hit, ‘Promise of a Future.’ “We are very proud and excited about our relationship with Bra Hugh. It’s a match made in heaven, a perfect fit. Not only do we believe in the same things, we also believe in the power of our heritage. “And where we come from will also determine where we go.”
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0860 103 091 www.assupol.co.za
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