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Five takeaways from the African Insurance Forum

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‘Nobody knows the future. You can only work to create it.’Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba

What does the African insurance industry look like in a post-pandemic world? That was the big question on everyone’s lips at the recent African Insurance Forum (AIF) in Sandton – but if anyone had hoped to come away with definitive answers, they would have been disappointed.

The one certainty is that across the continent, the entire industry is facing the same challenges. Technology is transforming the way we live and work. The pandemic has thrown a sharp focus on issues like work-life balance and mental health. Consumer behaviour is constantly shifting. Old business models are falling by the wayside. If the life insurance industry is going to stay relevant in this rapidly changing world, we’re going to have to innovate and transform. Fast.

The technology dilemma

We’ve learned the importance of the digital economy in our business. Where digitisation and technology were rapidly approaching before the pandemic, now they’re a part of everyday life. Technology is here to stay, and we must embrace the opportunities it brings to build a slicker, more customer-centric industry, and to give far more people access to financial services. To make it work, we’ll have to ensure our entire ecosystem – customers, advisers and partners – has access to the right digital and financial tools.

Mental health

As an industry, our focus has traditionally been on physical health issues. A doctor runs some tests, makes a diagnosis, and we act accordingly. Mental health is less precise – but no less important. In fact, mental health claims were the second-most common reason for claiming on income protection in 2020, according to Bidvest Life’s Claims Report.

The future of work

Right now, we’re grappling with what the future of work looks like. Even as businesses across the world embrace hybrid, remote, flexible work, and even the four-day working week – there are still more questions than answers on how to best service our people and our stakeholders.

The sustainability imperative

We’re learning to put the ‘S’, for Sustainability, at the forefront of our ESG agenda. Sustainability is the future of the industry: from driving greater diversity in the workplace, to preferential procurement, to diversifying our adviser and policyholder base to reach new and uninsured audiences. That’s not only key to the sustainability of our industry; it’s baked into our mandate of protecting as many people as we can from life’s unexpected curve balls.

Pandemic-proofing

We must find ways to future-proof our businesses to deal with future ‘Black Swan’ events. Do we have provisions in place to cover unforeseen spikes in claims, and to deal with the lasting impacts of long Covid? What are we doing to alleviate the strain on our employees who handle insurance claims day in and day out? As much as we must deliver better customer experiences, we’ve got to get better at delivering a great employee experience as well – and that starts with a great internal culture that’s both empathetic and high performing.

The bottom line is that we, as an industry, have to take on board the lessons of Covid-19. We must get better at preparing ourselves, and our clients, for disruptive shocks. Along the way, we must embrace new ways of working, while maintaining our workplace cultures. We have a huge opportunity to use technology to work smarter and service our clients better. Most of all, we have to evolve our product offerings and distribution to drive greater access to life insurance, and to protect more working people from life’s risks. Then we’ll be able to say we’re on our way to being relevant now and into the future.