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Evolving the insurance sector in an age of exponential change

26 October 2017 Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Santam
Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Executive Head of Brand and Marketing at Santam.

Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Executive Head of Brand and Marketing at Santam.

The future is approaching faster than ever as we enter the age of ‘exponential technologies’. In the insurance sector – where businesses have to anticipate change and manage risks – we face a number of new ‘problems’ that require novel solutions. Some questions we’ve been asking include “How does one adapt car insurance for driverless cars?” and “What new risks will we have to cover in an age of machine- learning when human-error will be less of a factor? “

While we’re debating the answers to these questions, the global insurance industry continues to evolve by adding to its range of products and services as it adjusts to ‘unknown’ demand. In nearly every part of society, we’ve seen how technology has the power to radically alter the way we live, work and communicate. Think simply, of the use of the internet and mobile phones and how global powerhouses have used it to fundamentally change the way people live and do business. The moment it happened, it almost didn’t seem momentous. It’s as if ‘googling’ something seemed to be a natural progression; as if the world’s customers expected it before it existed.

There’s no denying that the general insurance industry – as society’s most vital protection mechanism - stands on the cusp of its next frontier. No big ‘disruption’ has irretrievably shaken our industry yet but perhaps the boundless amount of change the world is constantly witnessing offers clues to what will frame our ‘new normal’.

The natural catastrophe events over the past few weeks specifically, have placed the spotlight squarely on the work we do, the most recent examples of which include hail storms in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, flooding in Durban, fires in Knysna, the monsoon flooding in India and Bangladesh and the consequences of Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria in the US. These catastrophes which have already cost thousands of lives and billions of rands have raised very important questions for us – including ‘How can we improve the way we respond?’

In a unique country like South Africa, we have to continue to balance the comprehensive levels of protection we provide to society with responsible citizenship and evolving technologies in a highly globalised environment. Not only do we have to revisit the way we respond in a catastrophe crisis by ensuring we are always in a position to pay claims, we also need to ask ourselves whether we’ve done enough to ensure that communities understand the risks they face and are properly prepared. This is why we’ve invested so heavily in strong partnerships which drive disaster risk reduction and resilience at both local and national levels.

For us, staying the course means, we’re watching out for people who form a part of South Africa’s vulnerable communities and on the other hand we are also building cyber-risk protection products. It means we’re making sure we understand significant threats like fire risk while launching a new drone insurance product. It means we’re using a deluge of data to build an underwriting model for Uber and making sure our clients are properly equipped for a protracted drought.

It’s a meeting of worlds we cannot fully understand and yet, here we are. We know we can’t do any of this without the partnerships and goodwill of the clients who have entrusted us with the things they value most. In a world where things definitely can go wrong, we’re saying we’re still here – even after 99 years – working hard to figure it all out. And we’ll continue to be here, in years to come, figuring out the answers to all the important questions that are being posed.

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