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Metropolitan Success Stories

20 July 2021 Metropolitan
Abulela Gazi, Head – Client & Business Solutions at Metropolitan

Abulela Gazi, Head – Client & Business Solutions at Metropolitan

Abulela Gazi joined Metropolitan in 2019, about five months before the start of the pandemic that has altered how we live and do business. While he wasn’t part of the initial business transformation journey, he both appreciated the foundation that had been laid and was clear on his responsibilities.

Firstly, it was to ensure that Metropolitan had products that meet customer and adviser needs, and secondly, to ensure that the products continue to deliver the right financial results.

He explains, “In the past, we haven’t always been good at pricing our products appropriately. Either they were biased towards the shareholder or to the customer. In my first five months, we went on a journey to find the sweet spot, to understand why various products are delivering certain financial outcomes and being comfortable with this. Products also need to be attractive to not just customers but advisers as well as they are the point of contact for customers, especially at worksites - where Metropolitan allocates advisers to the workplace of our clients to provide support and advice on financial matters - where competition is rife.”

To assist advisers in this competitive environment, Metropolitan also invested in creating marketing collateral for advisers to help them attract more clients. The focus was to really highlight the benefits to clients to partner with us on their quest to reach their financial life goal.

Everything was coming along nicely and then, smack bam in the middle of rolling out the grand plans to fix and future-fit products, and improve financial results, COVID-19 happened.

The team was at a crossroads.

Abulela says, “We had to figure out how to handle it from a product solution perspective. There was so much uncertainty and there was a temptation to consolidate, to knuckle-down with the products we had and limit the risk. Instead, we decided that it is amidst chaos and uncertainty where opportunity lies. We knew that customer behaviour and needs were going to both expand and change because there was the recognition that there was a need for insurance products, especially life cover products.”

The reality is that, across the emerging market, the majority of clients only have funeral cover, which is capped at up to R100,000. This limits the opportunity for a person to live a sustained life after a breadwinner passes on. This was the gap that they targeted, especially knowing that the pandemic would, firstly, heighten the need for increased cover amounts to ensure that if something happened to a client, their family would need to be looked after. And, secondly, would heighten the awareness of clients on the importance of being protected for these unfortunate events.

As a result, the decision was taken to develop a life cover solution from scratch, co-crafted with different parts of the business - not just actuaries sitting in a room - and taking into consideration previous customers and future customer needs based on the pandemic and its impact. The product development process, which usually involves extensive client research and robust market analysis, wasn’t as rigid as usual. The EXCO team went on a hunch, backed up by certain calculated assumptions about a market that they have increasingly intimate knowledge of. It was partially a difficult decision to take, considering the uncertainty the was presented by the pandemic. However, considering the entrepreneurial and innovative culture that has taken root across the organisation, the team saw it as a risk worth taking. It was an opportunity to leapfrog their competitors.

Of the product itself, Abulela says, “We designed a truly innovative solution that is fully customisable to meet the customer’s needs. Generally, insurance products are inflexible. The only flexibility is generally in cover amounts. The stance we took was informed by, one, customers’ needs are different; two, with the pandemic, affordability will become an issue; and, three, we’re moving into a world where customers want to have choice. We’re quite clear in that we are in the business of delivering value for money for customers and our market and this solution, along with our cashback solution that we launched in October last year, really shows that we have something that is attractive to our clients.”.

Abulela is very cognisant of the need for finding balance and not getting carried away. As an insurance company, Metropolitan is in the business of managing long-term risk. Therefore, when taking risks, it is important that these are ones that consider the long-term horizon and do not compromise the sustainability of the organisation. This new product didn’t come at the expense of existing products but was an addition to the product basket - a product that will have a place even beyond the pandemic. And the development process, which was followed bodes well in an environment where, increasingly, insurtechs are coming to the fore.

In closing, Abulela says. “the nimbleness and what we have learned in the last year will make us more responsive to startups in the insurtech sector and other competitors. We have a process in place to design, develop, test and launch a product in a short space of time. That’s where the world is going. You need to be agile. You need to be innovative. You need to be comfortable with failing. You need to be comfortable exploring outside your comfort zone and questioning what you think you know.”

The pandemic was a dipstick test of sorts to determine if the business had the necessary skills and Abulela believes Metropolitan passed with flying colours. Future fitting the business is about putting the business in a position to take advantage of opportunities wherever they arise.

Quick Polls

QUESTION

South Africa’s Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) has the power to raise revenues by issuing administrative penalties and fines against non-compliant financial services providers, with this money flowing back to the Treasury… Does this, in your view, create a regulatory / government conflict of interest?

ANSWER

Absolutely, as conflicted as it gets
Maybe, I’m on the fence on this
No, the FSCA can do no wrong
The guilty must pay
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