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“Winning solves everything”: What “The Insurance Apprentice 2020” teaches us about insurance leadership – Part II

12 June 2020 Gareth Stokes

As congratulations stream in for Amogelang Kgaladi, winner of The Insurance Apprentice (TIA) 2020, we continue our journey to gain insights into this unique insurance competition. In Part I we placed Episodes 1-3 under the spotlight; today we chat about Episodes 4-7. And the grand finale? Well, we already know who was crowned as TIA 2020 winner. We wish Amogelang, who is presently Head: Corporate Actuarial at FNB Short-term, all the best in his future endeavours. Congratulations also to Memory Zimba, Actuarial Manager at Centriq Insurance, who was a competent and composed runner-up.

Episode 4 – Positive responses to community protest

South Africans are not strangers to violent protest. In recent years communities have taken to the streets in increasing numbers to voice their concerns over service delivery. Municipal data and intelligence gatherer, Municipal IQ, reported 218 major service delivery protests countrywide in 2019, down slightly from the 237 recorded the year prior. One of the goals of TIA is to mirror real world experiences in the scenarios developed for contestants. It was therefore fitting that Episode 3, sponsored by Sasria SOC Limited, focused on communities and community risks. 

Fareedah Benjamin, Executive Manager: Insurance Operations at Sasria, observed that the special risks insurer was experiencing high volumes of claims in two communities, namely De Doorns in the Western Cape and Alexandra in Gauteng. Contestants were challenged to conduct research on these communities, determine what was behind the protests, and develop a programme of mitigating actions to reduce the insurer’s claims and risk exposures. Teams had to present an overview of their findings alongside a sustainable business plan and budget with a three to five year timeline. Co-judge and CEO at INSETA, Nadia Starr, urged contestants to consider how the insurance industry could address socioeconomic issues such as poverty, unemployment, and access to opportunities. 

“One of the teams really blew me away with the way they presented their concept,” noted Benjamin, during the judging for Episode 4. Starr agreed, saying that “one team was exceptional, while the other missed the mandate completely”. Both Starr and co-judge Simon Colman, managing executive at SHA, questioned why the losing team had chosen De Doorns to focus their efforts on. “We were mystified as to why you took the outlying area, you set yourself up for a harder task,” said Colman, aka Judge Dread. And what was the sense in proposing a festival in the town when there were so many unresolved social issues? Nabeelah Maharaj, Line Manager: Commercial Processing at Santam Insurance was voted out. 

Episode 5 – Catastrophe and environmental risk

Contestants were in for a shock during Episode 5, sponsored by multinational insurance broker, Marsh Africa. Guest judges Peter Links, VP Strategic Risk Consulting at Marsh and Gert Wahl, Consulting Director at Marsh’s Client Advisory Services, were on hand to present a complex challenge involving environmental risk in the context of climate change and extreme weather. They wanted to see how contestants responded to a dynamic risk environment, test how they synthesised complex risk information, and assess their presentation skills. As the contestants set about studying their packs, Marsh threw a curve ball that even Babe Ruth would have struggled to connect. 

After a couple of hours to prepare for the apparently run-of-the-mill task, the Marsh Africa experts burst into the teams’ situation rooms and broke the news: “There has been an [imaginary] explosion in the harbour near our client’s coastal facility. The board is on its way – you have 30 minutes to prepare an assessment of their environmental risk exposures”. This sudden development would have shaken competent risk professionals in the real world; but would the TIA contestants rise to the challenge? “This was a superb task, technical and very challenging,” commented Colman, as he prepared to shatter another contestant’s 2020 hopes. 

Both Links and Wahl were disappointed with the outcome. “Neither team brought out the critical factor of environmental exposures,” they said. “They failed to make the environment central to their presentations, they were not in control of the situation, and they were unable to advise the board on the next steps”. Co-judge Starr was disappointed too; but left it to Colman to deliver the final verdict: “You do not have to be experts in terms of environmental risk to know that a plastics business has issues broadly linked to the environment”. He was particularly annoyed with one of the teams for delving into business interruption cover when the brief had clearly indicated a focus on environmental risk. Vicky Sebothoma, a broker assistant at Aon Re Africa, became the fourth person voted out of TIA 2020. But there was another shock in store as Episode 5 turned into a nasty double-header. 

Colman gave the remaining contestants the opportunity to vote off one of their TIA peers by writing a name on a piece of paper, Survivor style. Sebastian Reddy, a personal lines consultant at Old Mutual Insure was the unfortunate ‘victim’ of this last minute firing squad. 

Episode 6 – putting out fires

Chris Potter, Portfolio Executive at Emerald Risk Transfer was on hand to welcome the four remaining TIA contestants to Episode 6, which kicked-off with some hands-on fire-fighting training. The task focused on risk management, measurement, and mitigation; disciplines that were explained by Carla Jordan, CFO and Senior Executive of International Business at Emerald as “integral in underwriting risk”. Contestants were divided into two teams and asked to make risk motivations and recommendations based on a risk survey. There were lessons aplenty during the post-task assessment. 

Potter observed that attention to detail, completeness, and professionalism were crucial when presenting million-rand solutions at board level. “The winning group was clear, even though they failed to address many of the items they should have,” concluded Colman, before Starr expressed dismay at how poorly the teams had interpreted their mandate. The judges focused on teamwork, with one team criticized for a lack of cohesiveness and both teams reprimanded for incomplete documentation. After deliberating for more than an hour the judges decided to give each of the members of the losing team 60 seconds to motivate their continued participation in TIA 2020. JP Ellis, Senior Manager: Legal and Claims at EthiQal was voted out, two judges to one. The majority had spoken: And Ellis was summarily dismissed, with no recourse to the labour law. 

Episode 7 – Forget being fired, this time you are debarred

I have been writing about the complex word of insurance and insurance regulation for more than a decade; and I can vouch that few understand the country’s complex financial services regulation as clearly as Caroline da Silva, Deputy Executive Officer Regulatory Policy at the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA). The final challenge, sponsored by the FSCA and presented by Da Silva, would send tremors of fear through the most consummate of financial services professionals. 

“We are going to issue each of you with a notice of intention to debar in terms of section 154(1)(b) read with section 153(1)(a) of the Financial Sector Regulation Act,” said Da Silva. The motivation for the debarment order, issued against the key individual of the contravening financial services provider, centred on contraventions of binder and outsourcing regulations as well as failure to adhere to the Policyholder Protection Rules: Short-term. Each of the three remaining contestants was given access to Da Silva and the necessary documentation to present their case at a mock debarment hearing. “Debarment is career ending for an insurance practitioner, so approach this task with that level of seriousness,” said Colman. 

The final task was certainly the most challenging; and while the remaining contestants stated their cases eloquently, it was clear none had done enough to convince the panel. “If that had been real life and we had to rule based on your presentations, then each of you would have been debarred,” concluded Da Silva. Contestants were reminded that South Africa’s regulators were moving from a compliance driven to a conduct driven environment and that ethical conduct and treating customers fairly (TCF) was not a tick-box process. 

Lessons in treating customers fairly

“Being able to defend a position on the basis of compliance does not warrant poor outcomes to customers,” concluded Starr. “We were looking for a level of technical application in terms of how you interpreted the situation and engaged with the regulator – we were also concerned with the failure in TCF”. It was left to Colman to have the last word, dismissing Siphamandla Dube, a business analyst at Hollard Insure. He sent the final two contestants, Memory Zimba and Amogelang Kgaladi, to meet their fate during the grand finale, held 3 June 2020, and since written into history as the defining moment of the most competitive season of The Insurance Apprentice yet.

Quick Polls

QUESTION

Which of the following business models do you favour to achieve a sustainable succession outcome in your financial advice practice?

ANSWER

[a] I will find an independent financial planner to buy my business
[b] I will sell a portion of my advice practice to a large corporate
[c] I will join a large firm and give up my independence
[d] I will invite another independent financial planner to join me
[e] I will partner with a large firm
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