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FMI: blazing a trail for a new approach to life insurance

17 January 2019 FMI

Life insurer FMI has always believed in protecting your dreams. Today, the company, which pioneered income protection for the self-employed in South Africa, is emerging as one of the big growth stories of the local insurance sector – and it says the best is yet to come.

In the past year alone, FMI’s sales volumes have almost doubled, driven by a wider range of life insurance products and what chief executive Brad Toerien calls “a better way” of doing life insurance based on protecting and supplementing 100% of a person’s income.

“We’ve always had a strong view around the way life insurance products should be designed and we have always been a purpose-driven company,” says Toerien. “As we’ve grown, we’ve offered more benefits, but there’s no doubt that our single-minded purpose of protecting people’s income has been a powerful driver of our growth.”

‘People’ is a word that comes up frequently when talking to Toerien and his team. “We’re a people-driven business. Every part of the business has been designed around people, from our internal culture to our products. It’s the single biggest factor that drives our expansion,” he says.

FMI’s Critical Illness cover is a prime example of this people-centric approach. Launched in 2016, it has gained rapid traction in the market by offering a range of innovations that were inspired by actual customer feedback.

“We spoke to many survivors of various critical illnesses to better understand the real needs of those going through a critical illness, such as cancer. As a result, we were able to recognise actual needs that our clients face when confronted with a critical illness. For example, a medical second opinion to know you’re doing the right thing. Counselling, to help the family deal with the trauma. A monthly income, and cover for extra expenses. Even the services of an au pair for day-to-day help with the children,” says Toerien.

Importantly, Toerien says many of the company’s offerings are based on the reality that individuals are living and working longer – which means they need cover for longer. The answer, he believes, lies in an intimate understanding of what customers actually want from their insurance products, and the ability to assess risk around that.

“Now that we’ve established a really comprehensive product range, our next challenge is to better connect with our customers. In our industry, technology is often seen as the answer to everything, but it needs to be used with a clear understanding of insurance risk and the importance of human relationships,” he says.

These relationships extend to FMI’s own relationship with its owner, Bidvest. Toerien credits Bidvest’s acquisition of the company in 2016 as a key factor in FMI’s meteoric growth in recent years, and there is clearly strong mutual admiration between the two companies.

“Bidvest has been an unbelievable shareholder. They’re such a big company, with immense financial muscle which has unlocked huge opportunities for us. They challenge us to think big and be ambitious, but have largely left us alone to do our own thing and keep the entrepreneurial spirit which got us to where we are,” he says.

Moving forward, FMI also plans to invest time and resources into continuing to work closely with intermediaries. While customers are better-informed and more insurance-savvy than ever before, Toerien’s view is that the majority of life insurance will continue to be bought and sold through intermediaries for the foreseeable future.

“Life insurance is such a personal and important decision, which makes advice invaluable. As a company and an industry, we need to find ways of making intermediaries’ lives easier, add value to their businesses, and connect better with the market through them,” he says.

“As an industry we need to find a better way to communicate with the younger generation where there is important work to be done in reshaping perceptions around life insurance. ‘Life insurance’ is often viewed as ‘death insurance’ – and individuals who don’t have dependents or debt don’t need that. But they do need income protection. As an industry, we’ve done a poor job of making ourselves relevant to the younger generation, which means there’s a large segment of the market that is underserviced,” says Toerien.

Where to next for FMI? It’s safe to say growth is on the agenda. But the focus on people will never change. The company recently relocated its headquarters to the new Sibaya development, just outside Umhlanga, and Toerien says the new offices are a key part of creating the right environment for FMI’s culture to flourish.

“The one part of FMI that can’t be replicated is our culture. We’ve got such a special way of going about things. Our offices give us a space where we are all together, and serve as a tangible sign of how we’ve been able to grow and develop.”

Quick Polls

QUESTION

No developing economy has ever built a single-payer complementary NHI equivalent covering the entire population. NHI promises comprehensive care but it is also 100% free at the point-of-service. Is this practical?

ANSWER

It is doable but collaboration is key
South Africa is not in a position to build NHI
The only conclusion possible is that the private healthcare sector is not going to disappear or change
There is little chance that the NHI will be able to receive significant government funding
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