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Creating ambassadors for South Africa’s non-life insurance industry since 2015, Part II

06 September 2021 Gareth Stokes

Communication, leadership and teamwork emerged as non-negotiable skills during the latest iteration of the popular The Insurance Apprentice (TIA) reality competition. Contestants in series seven of the reality-styled video competition had to think on their feet and convert innovative ideas into cogent presentations in a matter of minutes, or forever risk the ire of the no-nonsense panel of judges.

We have to hand it to the competition’s production team for generating real world excitement despite being constrained to a virtual environment due to lockdown limitations. One of the techniques they used to good effect has since been dubbed, by this writer, as the five-minute / four-minute torture. What do I mean by this? Well, the final knockout task in each episode involved two teams going head-to-head in a tough insurance challenge, made tougher by allowing only five minutes for teams to come up with solutions, and a mere four minutes for them to present their solutions to the judges. An extra constraint was to stipulate that each team member be allocated an equal amount of presentation time. Plenty of um and ah resulted, teleporting the writer back to his days on the high school debate team. Um, ah, but enough of that; it is time to launch into my second and final article covering goings on at TIA 2021. Be sure to read Part I first! 

Innovating in the HCV insurance segment

We pick up the narrative during Episode 7, with just six contestants still in the running to emerge as the ultimate ambassador for South Africa’s short-term insurance industry. This episode, sponsored by Discovery Insure, took a deep dive into specialist cover for Heavy Commercial Vehicles (HCVs). Clyde Troup, Head of Underwriting: Business Insurance at Discovery, introduced the challenge by acknowledging TIA as the perfect platform to develop new talent in the competitive non-life insurance sector. “There is an ecosystem around HCV business that impacts its performance, both from an operational efficiency and insurance perspective,” he said, challenging competitors to come up with a new HCV insurance value proposition. 

Troup, like most of TIA’s guest judges, was specific about what he wanted from contestants. He asked them to come up with a solution that focused on driver behaviour and fleet management excellence, with consideration for the wide range of cost pressures and risks that faced South Africa’s commercial fleet operators. “Your solution should lead to a reduction in road fatalities, improved insurance loss ratios and improvements in the operational effectiveness of fleets,” said Troup, to the five remaining competitors. The astute among our readership will be wondering what happened to the sixth. Well spotted, dear reader, but of little help to Masechaba Mahaba, who ended up bottom of the ladder following the rapid-fire question-and-answer session at the start of the episode. Her reward, instant dismissal; there is no relegation safety-net in this rough and tumble reality show! 

That left Team A, made up of Anele Sweli, Tafadzwa (Taffy) Chikanya and Fiona Fitzpatrick to battle with Team B’s Brendon Balaram and Sumeet Bisundayal for survival. We fast-forward to the judge’s final deliberations, immediately following the team presentations. “It is not clear which is the winning team; neither ticked all the boxes,” mused Simon Colman, Business Head at SHA, a division of Santam, before observing that one team had failed to innovate, while the other had shown some promise without any substance to back it up. Troup, who agreed that neither team had done enough to emerge as a clear winner, was concerned about the balance between disruption and the so-called hygiene factor. He said it was poor form to offer product innovation without the nuts and bolts; and equally poor to offer the nuts and bolts without product differentiation. 

An unstructured mess of a presentation… urgh!

TIA 2021 judging was brutal, and Episode 7 was no exception. “I do not think either team explained the complete ecosystem, there were bits and pieces of the right stuff in each presentation, but we did not get what we were looking for,” concluded Troup. Colman, aka Judge Dread, was equally dismissive, tearing into Team B. “I have never seen such an unstructured mess of a presentation,” he frothed. “You took a risk that could have worked, but there was simply too much dancing around the issues”. After the usual back and forth between judges and contestants, it became clear that Taffy was in the firing line. “Taffy, your cargo almost arrived at its destination,” chuckled Colman. “Unfortunately, your journey has ended in complete disaster … you have lost your load and jack-knifed your apprentice campaign and you can go no further”.

The final four headed to the TIA Episode 8 Finale to battle for a long list of prizes, not least of which the bragging rights as South Africa’s short-term insurance ambassador for the coming 12-months. Colman was joined by regular co-judge, Nox Dlamini, and Episode 8 sponsor representative, Matthew Bezuidenhout, Valuation Services Practice Leader at Marsh South Africa, to deliver the final judgement in the eight-week-long competition. Dlamini is MD at XonRisk and winner of TIA 2018. 

Bezuidenhout introduced a tough final challenge for contestants. “MPG is a pharmaceutical company licensed to develop, research and supply vaccinations,” he said. “Each of you must put forward your risk financing solutions to address the hard market and other risks that MPG faces, including rising premiums, uninsured risks and the threats presented by the pandemic environment”. But as the contestants scurried off to the safety of their virtual lounges to prepare, things took a dramatic turn. 

“Today we have a nasty surprise for our contestants,” said Colman. “We are going to call them up and request an urgent elevator pitch, and then eliminate one of them”. I tell you, dear reader, this Judge Dread alias is fully deserved. One after the other, Anele, Fiona, Sumeet and Brendon took to the Zoom window to deliver their 30 second “last gasp” to stay in the competition. Few in the audience were surprised when the judges expressed their disappointment. “Those elevator pitches were generally uninspiring,” summarised Colman, delivering what may have been the understatement of TIA 2021. Sumeet was given his marching orders after playing hard ball in a curve ball situation! 

Judges’ final plea: “Tell us why you deserve to win?”

All that remained was for the final three to present their recommendations to the imaginary pharmaceutical company board… Each contestant was allocated a handful of minutes that would make the difference between leaving the competition as an also-ran or being crowned as The Insurance Apprentice 2021. “This was one of the most challenging judging sessions,” said Colman, who again revealed that there was no clear winner based on presentation content. Bezuidenhout took things a step further, observing that while nobody stood out as a clear winner, there was one who clearly lost. After much deliberation the judges decided to call in the top two to make their respective cases for why they should scoop the title, with the winner to be decided by judges’ ballot. 

“I have such a love for this industry,” said Fiona, “And I really want more young people to be involved in it.” The writer was sure she had blown her chances by not using up her allocated time. Anele, by contrast, made a valiant final effort. “I am passionate about this industry. It is one that became a home for me, that I stumbled upon, and that I am passionate about growing and extending to the general public,” she said… But her effort proved to be in vain. The judges put the matter to the vote and declared Fiona the winner of TIA 2021.  

Kudos, you all showed true grit and determination

Having watched TIA 2021 from beginning to end, I can confidently say that Rianet Whitehead and team have stayed true to the formula despite the myriad challenges that pandemic introduced. The competition delivered on its promise of improving perceptions of the industry, using a unique combination of education and entertainment to create lasting impressions on competitors, sponsors and viewers alike. 

My heartfelt congratulations to all involved with this exceptional effort. And a word of appreciation to each of the 64 contestants for stepping up to the challenge. Instead of moping in your virtual worlds, you stepped outside your comfort zones to do your part to make insurance more accessible… Kudos to one and all for taking a small, incremental step towards progress in your careers and making the insurance sector, and South Africa, a better place for all.

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