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Enhancing Altrisk’s reputation: a major achievement for Blain

10 July 2014 Jonathan Faurie
Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

Jonathan Faurie, FAnews Journalist

FAnews chatted to Michael Blain about the announcement of his resignation from Altrisk.

Taking the reins of a progressive company

Speaking to FAnews, Blain said that when he joined Altrisk, the company was already a progressive company which was punching well above its weight. When Blain took over the company his main goal was to maintain the essence of what had made Altrisk successful while positioning the company for the future.

“When I joined the company, the owners who originally founded the company were still very active in its management structure. It was a big deal for the company to embrace the change and to see the founders of the business step aside as they were, and still are, highly respected people in the industry. But we needed to become streamlined and we needed to establish a sense of purpose and direction for the company’s future ambitions,” says Blain.

Blain describes this as his first major achievement at Altrisk. The fact that this change was accomplished during a difficult operating and economic environment added to the achievement. There was also a significant war for distribution during this period.

Making the business about the client

Before the Financial Services Board (FSB) started showing its intention to bring Treating Customers Fairly into the industry, Blain already saw the need for making the customer the company’s central focus.

“Altrisk saw that there was a need to challenge the status quo. We needed to broaden our reach in order to offer products to a new target market. In order to achieve this, we needed to move away from the traditional view of having a product centric approach to having a customer centric approach,” he said.

Once again, this proved challenging in a market where insurance is still viewed as a grudge purchase, which means that there is very little long term commitment from consumers.

Fighting the cause of the IFA

As with many leaders in the industry, Blain does not have many regrets relating to his time at Altrisk. However, Blain said that if there was one thing that he could do over, it would be to address the company’s distribution model a lot sooner.

“When I joined Altrisk, the company was marketing its products using a mixture of distribution models. In hindsight, I would have liked to have streamlined this a lot sooner as advisers play a vital role in the makeup of the business and the way that the business is seen in the industry,” says Blain.

Another aspect that he would have done sooner is to take up the fight for the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) a lot sooner. When he started at the company he could already see that there were warning signs in the industry that the IFA was and will continue to be under severe pressure.

“We need to look at how we can protect the remaining IFA’s in the industry. The FSB and the Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa (FIA) have recognised the value that independent advice can offer the industry and that there is a need for this to be preserved and encouraged going forward,” says Blain.

Becoming an industry heavyweight

While the company has already established a reputation for being one of the country’s leading providers of specialist risk cover, Blain states that integrating fully into the Hollard group will add value to intermediaries and clients as it can now be clearly associated with one of the country’s biggest insurers.

“By joining the Hollard group, Altrisk’s growth will be very much part and parcel of Hollard’s growth vision moving forward. Altrisk will be integrated into a group that has significant corporate and financial backing which will undoubtedly benefit the company. Altrisk’s building blocks have been put in place, the hard years of the company have firmly been left behind. It is now a matter of executing this strategy in line with Hollard’s vision,” says Blain.

Will Blain be riding off into the sunset?

There is a popular belief within the insurance industry that once you enter the industry, it becomes very hard to turn your back on it. Blain will be handing over responsibilities at the end of July, and while he has not made any firm decisions on his immediate future, he has hinted that he will not be leaving the industry.

“The insurance industry is an industry that I know and I love. I have a significant passion for the industry and there is still so much that can be done to improve the industry’s profile and role in society. A lot needs to be done to change the perception of the public that insurance is a grudge purchase. A lot of work also needs to be done concerning what benefits and services insurance companies can offer and how they can offer them,” says Blain.

Bearing in mind Blain’s passion regarding the preservation of the IFA, we foresee him taking on a number of projects that will promote this and drive it as one of the major causes in the industry.

Editor’s Thoughts:
Blain has brought a unique blend of passion and innovation into the industry which has seen Altrisk establish itself as one of the industry’s leading risk providers. The IFA began to flourish under Blain, what do you think is its future now? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts jonathan@fanews.co.za.

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