- What are your thoughts on employees returning to a conventional office setting?
Obviously we need the office space, but not everybody needs to be there at the same time. We think a hybrid model can work, and there's tremendous savings that we can achieve if we get it right. So, we've actually adopted a hybrid policy for implementation post-Covid. As long as we are under the national state of disaster, we follow the Covid protocols, so as far as possible we continue to work remotely; only go to the office if you absolutely need to go.
Once this gets lifted, we will allow remote working and flexible involvement, with at least one day a week at the office. And that will depend on different business units and different departments – to make sure that we still keep that family feeling and unique culture.
One of the challenges with remote working or a hybrid model is the onboarding of new employees and therefore specific rules will apply. A new employee, as an example, as well as his or her team members at different stages, will be required to spend much more time at the office for at least the first three months of the new employee’s employment to ensure proper integration and an introduction to our company culture.
We will therefore continue with a hybrid model, post-Covid. And from what I hear from product providers and colleagues in other companies, many are adopting a similar approach.
- As the pandemic recedes, how do you see the competition for talent on teams?
I see flexibility as it's probably going to become almost as important as remuneration, without a doubt. That's part of the motivation of why we adopted this hybrid model – to say that there will be flexibility, depending on the specific position and business requirements. In general, I think flexibility will in future be one of the most important criteria for new employees to consider.
- Consumers' expectations around product delivery and service have changed as a result of Covid-19, how do you foresee insurance adapting to this?
We are on the financial advisory side of the business, so that relationship with the client and personal interaction remains extremely important. But what the pandemic has shown us is that everybody is adaptable, so clients who previously insisted on you having to see them in person, will now do a lot of the conversations online. Interestingly, a telephone conversation doesn't do the same, but seeing one another over the screen at least creates some form of personal interaction.
Having said that, my view – and the feedback from our advisors – is that physical, personal interaction is as important as ever. Our game is all about relationships and it's all about the client – it's much more than just the financial product or solution.
The advisor becomes part of the client's family; he or she knows exactly what the client deals with and it's really about managing the client's emotions and being there for him or her. So that personal interaction will still be there but from a service delivery perspective, Covid forced us into this digital world and there is some meetings you can now have on this platform without a problem, but that personal touch once a year or once every six months – depending on the type of client and their personal circumstances – is still going be there. It's hybrid, but personal interaction is still about 70 percent there.
- What are your thoughts on the prospect of more face-to-face interactions with clients?
From a company policy perspective, we still manage it as in Covid conditions and we try to avoid any social interactions as far as possible, but as an example, our Cape Town office has 50 percent of the people there every day, so it is starting to change.
Our advisors are travelling; the management team is travelling, so the personal interaction has already started. Personal interaction is important and it's going to remain important. The products and the platforms are absolutely going to go digital in future, but in terms of where we operate, it's all about that personal touch and personal relationships.
- With the acceleration of digital transformation and AI, what data-driven solutions are you exploring or promoting?
The way we set out this business is we've got all these advisers on a national footprint; we’ve got 230 advisors – all representatives on our licence and about 180 of them operate for their own accounts, as independents, spread all over the country and placing business with multiple approved product providers.
Before Covid we started working on a system strategy that is very much focussed on data. We investigated everything that is available out there – from a CRM perspective to a financial needs analysis perspective to nifty electronic tools and calculators.
We sat through about 35 presentations of different providers and came to a conclusion of what it is that we want; and that is – from a management perspective – a centralised, 360-degree view of our business; from a financial advisor perspective, a 360-degree view of his or her advisory practice; and from a client perspective, a 360-degree view of his or her financial affairs. To give all these stakeholders a single view of everything that is important to them.
As an example, if a client has all his business with one provider, that's easy, because that provider has access to all the information and can easily present that information to the client. But if you have a life policy with Sanlam, an investment on Momentum's platform, short-term insurance at Old Mutual Insure, medical aid at Discovery – how do you get everything onto one platform, providing the client with a single view? That's the holy grail in our world, and what we will be pursuing from a data perspective. Once you get that right, the magic of AI will follow.