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The life insurance industry’s dilemma: diversify, or die slowly

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Right now, the life insurance industry is at an inflection point. Covid-19 underlined the critical role of life insurance in protecting working South Africans from life’s storms, but it also highlighted many challenges we’re going to have to address. The only way we’re going to meet these challenges is to transform – and that transformation must start with driving greater diversity and inclusion across the industry.

We’ve been tiptoeing around issues like diversity, gender parity and access for long enough. We can’t keep doing things the same way and still expect to be relevant tomorrow. We need a wider range of skills and viewpoints. If we’re going to put ourselves in the shoes of our stakeholders – including our employees, our advisers, our clients and even our untapped audiences – we need greater diversity: of thought, gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and education.

Let’s be clear on this. Diversity in the workplace isn’t some soft and fluffy concept that we only mention in our values; it’s something we need to live by. Our perspectives are shaped by the environment in which we operate, and we cannot innovate, be creative or push the envelope if our surroundings are homogenous. By supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, we benefit in ways that go way beyond the optics.

Apart from being the right thing to do for our society, diversity is a smart business move. The case for establishing a truly diverse workforce grows more compelling by the day. The moral and ethical argument is enough by itself. But the impact on the bottom line, as proven by multiple studies, is what should put diversity and inclusion at the top of every insurer’s agenda.

One of the things that Covid-19 has taught us is that business has the power to be a force for change. That’s why the move to a more open, diverse and inclusive society starts within our organisations. At Bidvest Life, our transformation agenda is being driven by a powerful female leadership team that includes the likes of chief marketing officer Zanele Ntulini, CIO Titi Ngubane, and chief HR officer Bianca Rohan. That’s a good thing for many reasons.

Research indicates that more women in corporate leadership roles make companies more successful and changes the culture in the workplace. Korn Ferry Institute research in 2017 showed female CEOs take more risks, are more resilient and agile, and are better at managing ambiguity and encouraging teamwork among their employees. An MIT study found the most effective leadership teams were those best at reading people – and those were the teams with the most women.

But diversity is about more than just attracting more women to the industry. Gender equality remains a massive issue in the corporate world, but true diversity is about bringing together different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives. It doesn’t happen by itself, though. Companies need to actively plan, and implement, approaches to support and advance women and under-represented groups. This will require a paradigm shift in the culture of our businesses and our entire industry.

Ultimately, change happens when we have the diverse thinking, innovation and creative ideas that a melting pot of people bring to the table. To stay relevant, we must diversify. The future of our industry depends on it.