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

30 August 2021 Gareth Stokes

There is something about being in a near permanent state of lockdown that changes our experience of space and time. Not only have our personal environments shrunk, becoming tiny subsets of the areas that we roamed pre-pandemic, but the months and years now race by in a day-to-day rinse and repeat cycle. Every next day has become a carbon copy of its yesterday, for some 510 days and counting…

This writer suffered a chilling “blink and it’s September” moment while catching up on the entertaining The Insurance Apprentice (TIA) series, now in its seventh season. Yes, dear reader, you read correctly; we are almost three quarters of the way through 2021, and the winner of TIA 2021 has already been crowned! TIA is a reality-styled video competition that sets out to choose the ultimate ambassador for South Africa’s non-life insurance industry. It is a knockout competition that pits young non-life insurance professionals against one another in a ‘dog eats dog’ race to the top. The first five series made for compelling viewing, with groups of contestants being filmed carrying out complex short-term insurance tasks in real time and in the real world. And then Covid-19 hit, requiring the organisers to come up with an innovative re-work of the core concepts for 2020 and 2021. 

Having watched TIA 2021from 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. My heartfelt congratulations to all involved with this exceptional effort. TIA 2021 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. This is the first of two articles sharing my insights into the 2021 competition. 

First there were 10…

We kick off our coverage with Episode 5, by which time the field of 64 hopefuls had already been whittled down to just 10. Simon Colman, business head at SHA, set the stage for the hour-long show by introducing the eight pre-qualified finalists and two wild cards. The line-up, in no particular order, included Masechaba Mahaba, Fiona Fitzpatrick, Brendon Balaram, John Williams, Dimitri van Niekerk, Tafadzwa Chikanya, Sumeet Bisundayal, Anele Sweli, Kevin Matoko and Melissa Johnson. The finalists had no time to get their bearings, with a Rapid Risk question session resulting in the first exit from the competition within 10 minutes. Colman, aka Judge Dread, sent Melissa packing with one of his acerbic ‘you are dismissed’ quips: “You have been found to be unfit and improper; you have been de-barred and dismissed … Melissa it is time to leave the competition, goodbye”. 

The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), which is a multi-year supporter of the competition, stepped up to the plate as sponsor for Episode 5. Magkompi Raphasha, Head: Insurers & Retirement Fund Benefit Administrators Supervision at the regulator was on hand to set the scene for the first competition task. “I want you to cast your minds back to March 2020 when government imposed the national lockdown, which resulted in an avalanche of business interruption claims (BI),” he said. Contestants were challenged to view the catastrophe from an FSCA employee perspective and advise Raphasha on the causes of the dispute between non-life insurers and their policyholders; on how non-life insurers, intermediaries and reinsurers contributed to that dispute; and how the FSCA should respond to each of these stakeholders. 

The second cut, deeper than the first

You gain a new appreciation for words like ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’ when four or five contestants are parachuted into a virtual breakaway room and given five minutes to come up with a cogent presentation. “I would be going through absolute terror,” opined Nox Dlamini, co-judge and previous winner of the competition. “The FSCA would not have been anticipated as their first task; so, this is going to throw them a bit”. We will not go into the detail of the presentations, except to say that timekeeping emerged as a major issue. “Your presentations ranged from a snooze fest in one group, to watching a train wreck happening, not even in slow motion, but in real time, in the second,” ranted Colman, who added that eating into a colleague’s presentation time was poor form. 

The judges agreed that Team B had done enough to scoop the laurels, before turning their attention to the five individuals in Team A. And ironically, the only positive from Team A’s four-minute presentation turned out to be their timekeeping. “There were not any [other] good takeaways,” criticised Colman. “We were looking for nuggets of value, but there was nothing that stood out”. In keeping with the tough competition format, the judges identified the two weakest links in Team A and asked their peers to vote one or the other out of the competition. And thus, Dimitri was singled out as the second contested to ‘bite the dust’ in Episode 5, TIA 2021. The last words he heard: “Your business in this contest has been permanently interrupted, without any coverage”. 

Risk mitigation and transfer to create sustainable businesses

Episode 6, TIA 2021, broadcast 5 August 2021, was sponsored by Hollard Insure. In keeping with the virtual format, the episode started with a Rapid Risk round featuring 10 multiple choice questions, with contestants getting points for every correct answer plus bonus points for fastest correct response. Kevin ended up bottom of the table to earn instant dismissal as his reward. “You have filled in your proposal form, you have been underwritten, and your further participation in this programme has been declined,” said Judge Dread, leaving seven contestants to tackle a presentation task set by Keith Bester, a co-judge representing the sponsor. 

Hollard Insure set contestants the task of risk identification and mitigation for small businesses, with each team given the opportunity to choose from one of two business case studies. “Your task is to select one of the two businesses and present back to us on the reason you chose the business; the risks that face the business from both an insurance and environmental perspective; and how you would mitigate these risks to ensure sustainable business growth into the future,” explained Bester. 

Giving a thorough risk mitigation and transfer presentation following a mere five-minute preparation window turned out to be a steep ask! Team B, in this instance, triggered the judges’ collective wrath for parroting a long list of insurable perils from the once standard Multimark business policy wording. “Imagine if you were a coffee roasting business and your insurance broker walked in to presents you with a long list of things … they should rather have said ‘look, there is a long list of cover you can consider, but here are the three or four non-negotiables,” mused Colman. 

This view was seconded by Dlamini, who pointed out that small business owners had enough on their plates without being subject to overly technical presentations covering the entire universe of commercial insurance coverage. “You should focus on the business, and as you have that discussion you can introduce the components of a solid plan of action,” she said. “Over time you get to walk a risk management journey with the client rather than simply reciting an insurance policy wording”. 

Meeting SMME insurance needs with innovative, packaged products

Bester conceded that the task may have been too detailed for the time allowed, before mentioning that some of the ideas put forward by the contestants could have application in the microenterprise context. “We need to create innovative products for SMMEs that are at least packaged for the type of businesses activity they carry out,” he said. “[And it would be great if insurers and insurance brokers] could help these businesses to collaborate with and connect to other businesses within their sectors”. As always, it was left to Colman to do the dirty work. “Team A, I thought you really nailed it. Your presentation was concise and your answers to the questions were well thought out,” he said. Team B was not as lucky, taking flack for an erratic presentation that contained far too much information. 

The judges conjured up another curveball, by shortlisting two contestants from the losing team and giving each of them 30 seconds to deliver a pro-SMME pitch to remain in the competition. John and Tafadzwa battled valiantly, with the judges deciding to hang John out to dry. The concluding remarks, biting as ever, read: “The holes in your risk management strategy have been exposed and we have no option but to terminate your policy with immediate effect … John, you are dismissed,” leaving the six hardy contestants that remained with a couple of nagging truths. First, the stress and tension experienced to date could potentially escalate through two more episodes. And second, there could be only one TIA 2021 winner.



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