Future-fit skills for South Africa’s insurance sector

30 August 2021 The Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS)
Dr Kershen Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of The Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS)

Dr Kershen Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of The Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS)

Frans Kutumela, Head: Leadership & People Development at Santam

Frans Kutumela, Head: Leadership & People Development at Santam

Sean Naidoo, Executive Head: Enablement and Change - Insurance (ARO)

Sean Naidoo, Executive Head: Enablement and Change - Insurance (ARO)

As South Africa’s Financial Services Industry, specifically the insurance sector, accelerates digital transformation, experts within the insurance space have identified as critical, the need to bed down firm training and development strategies to successfully cope with the demands of the future workplace.

This discussion formed the heart of a robust IIG Insights Session hosted by The Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS) on 4 August 2021. Two influential industry voices joined Dr Kershen Pillay, the Chief Executive Officer of GIFS, for this #ConversationThatMatters. Sean Naidoo, Executive Head: Enablement and Change - Insurance (ARO) and Frans Kutumela, Head: Leadership & People Development at Santam discussed and debated the range of skills and competencies required within SA’s insurance sector to thrive in 4IR-driven realities.

“The world is currently experiencing a global reskilling emergency,” explained Dr Pillay, who moderated the discussion attended by 300 insurance industry executives and professionals. “We are in the midst of a digital frontier for new skills and new ways of working, living, thinking, and doing. As an industry, we are bracing ourselves for seismic shifts in the world of work as new tools and technologies are introduced. Digital ecosystems, by nature, are agile, fast-paced and expeditious. Recalibration is no longer an option. We must skill, re-skill, upskill and multi-skill now.”

Dr Pillay further noted that while data science and data analytics have emerged as critical for STI’s future, the demand far exceeds the supply of suitably qualified and experienced specialists, resulting in a severe digital skills gap in South Africa. This calls for a review and reinvention of current education system and processes.

All three session participants agree that three-pronged solution is required. Organisations must take the initiative to improve digital literacy among their workforces through mentorship and development programmes; individuals must actively seek to embellish their skills sets with digital competencies; and the overall education system must be rationalised to facilitate vigorous digital education at a school level.

Frans Kutumela expressed excitement at the opportunities that the tech evolution presents for SA’s insurance sector in terms of repurposing and pivoting career trajectories. "We are seeing an integration of roles. Whether you come from a finance background or a marketing background, people are acquiring new skills for a digitalised future,” he said.

Sean Naidoo agreed, stating that the insurance sector is “infrastructure rich but perhaps solutions poor” in its approach to digital disruption. This calls for a solid commitment from organisations to enable their people with future-fit competencies. “We've got to realise that not all staff, learners and resources turn up equally in an organisation,” he told session attendees. “We have to graduate our workforces from simple activities, and we need to go back to the essence of what human beings are capable of - the essential skills of emotion, interpersonal relations and the dexterity that complex human capability brings to us.”

Naidoo added that while firming up internal 4IR-compliant skills are critical, so is ensuring that digital experts entering the insurance space get the necessary grounding so they fully understand the unique workings and challenges of the industry. “There is a lot of value in technically learning, understanding product, centralising this around the customer, and deep diving data to get insights,” he said.

While some STI organisations are already reaping the benefits of digitisation – remote-based operations, fast-tracked processes and a more efficient workstreams – the rapid pace of technological advancement will place enhanced customer and client emphasis on personalised, intimate services and engagements. Thus, in addition to technological know-how, problem-solving and critical thinking, soft skills such as perseverance, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and empathy will pack an equally powerful punch in 4IR-driven workplaces.

Kutumela spotlighted the role of effective leadership to lead this fundamental change in mind-sets and operations. “In order for us to (technologically) shift and pivot, we need good leaders who have exceptionally strong emotional intelligence. Leading with empathy, regularly connecting with people on a personal and team level are important. We need measured steps to develop responsibly.”

Dr Pillay noted that preparing now for the perceived seismic shifts in workplaces means creating long-term, sustainable growth for the insurance industry. He drew attention to expert guestimates that by the year 2026, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could unlock R1.4 trillion of value in SA in agricultural infrastructure, as well as in the manufacturing and financial services sectors. “It is clear that if South Africa is to become a legitimate participant in the digital revolution, we will need to make some fundamental changes so we can realise this trillion-rand economic boost,” Dr Pillay said.

Shoring up support for this sentiment, Naidoo called for ‘reverse mentoring’ on the part of the next gen leaders in the STI space. “You have a huge role to play to reverse mentor the older generation. You are the leaders of the future. Take us and take the older generation along on this journey. As you are learning new new, take us along this journey with you.”

Access the full IIG Insights Session here:

Quick Polls


Do you believe this is the toughest period for financial advice in many years?


Yes, it’s hard to navigate the challenges and difficult to adapt. I’m struggling.
No, I have managed to navigate the challenges and have adapted. I’m good.
50/50. I just feel like whether we like it or not, we have to ready ourselves for change… be resilient and scale for the future. It’s not about survival of the fittest anymore but survival of the quickest. We just have to move on with life.
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