CFI.co Meets the CEO of Assupol Life: Bridget Mokwena-Halala

In South Africa’s busy life insurance market, that sees at least 52 providers vie for business, Assupol stands out not least because it boasts well over a century’s worth of experience. The company is widely recognized as a trend setter, periodically shaking up the industry with new products and, most importantly, novel ways of helping clients deal with bereavement and a number of other life events such as retirement.

The company started life in 1913 as a burial society for law enforcement officers. Now open to the general public, Assupol has remained true to its corporate leitmotiv – serving those who serve – denoting the company’s continued dedication to operational excellence. This entails much more than offering standard products at set rates: We insist on maintaining the closest possible proximity to our clients, ‘explains,” Bridget Mokwena-Halala, CEO of Assupol Life.

“Knowing your market, and your clients, is of paramount importance as our products need to dovetail precisely with demand. Also, an insurance company must at all times have a thorough understanding of the challenges both present and future, faced by the people its aims to serve. At Assupol we take our services to the people either via our large network of branches and agents or by dispatching mobile offices to underserviced communities. In emerging markets such as South Africa, most people dislike dealing with distant companies over the phone or by email; they’d much rather have a face-to-face meeting with a knowledgeable company representative to ask questions, dispel doubts, and discover how a given product can help them cope better with their specific circumstance. Call centres have their uses, but in our experience, majority of our clients and prospective ones much prefer face-to face interaction. We however, have a strategy to service those clients who prefer other methods of interaction; technology and the call centre.

Assupol’s dedication to service excellence finds its origins in South Africa’s highly competitive and fairly saturated insurance market: the penetration of funeral coverage presently borders 55% – 7.6 million policies distributed over a universe of around 14.5 million households. This means that only those insurers that excel are likely to gain market share. Assupol has long been aware of the need to keep a leading edge. To that end, the company introduced an efficient way of processing claims – funeral and savings claims are finalised within three hours from the moment of submission, payment is thereafter done within a few hours.
The streamline system, supported by a new and powerful IT backbone, revolutionised the industry and took competitors by surprise: ‘As an insurer, you make a promise to your client. We want to honour that promise instantly because each time a claim is received our hard- fought credibility is, essentially, on the line. It is only logical for us to speed up the entire process not only because Assupol wants to honour its word, but also because we recognise that the claimant is facing a difficult time, and faces immediate expenses, and cannot reasonably be expected to deal with all sorts of bureaucratic minutiae. That claimant just wants us to offer help in a time of need. It is what we are there for and what we aim to do.”

Mrs. Mokwena-Halala reports that the company’s agents provide an encouraging volume of positive feedback. “Assupol gets it right. That’s the feedback from independent brokers with whom we contracted with. Independent brokers compare our services with that of our competitors they have contracts with; their feedback is valuable. It also explains why Assupol has managed to extend its reach to other markets. This is relatively a new demographic for the company, but it moved in our direction because we deliver value for money services.
In fact, it was thanks to Assupol’s excellent offerings and service that Mrs. Mokwena- Halala moved from a career in Government to pursue one in the insurance industry. While serving as the area head of human resources in the South African Police Services, she constantly turned to Assupol for help when her staff members who were Assupol policyholders had financial difficulties or bereavement. In 1995, her relationship with Assupol was formalised and she was appointed as a part-time advisor. In 1999, Mrs. Mokwena-Halala was offered a full time position to join the Assupol management team and she quickly rose through the ranks. ‘The secret of success is not that secret: it just requires dedication, attention to details, eagerness to learn, being a team player and plenty of hard work. Assupol differs from other insurers in that the company proactively reaches out to smaller rural communities in order to offer direct access to its clients. We help people save, plan for retirement, and obtain funeral and other risk insurance. We take the time to explain our products and how they can contribute towards personal growth and stability. The face-to-face interaction provides a platform for our advisors to educate the clients on personal finance planning and management. That way, Assupol contribute towards increasing South Africa’s domestic savings rate and help families plan the future.”


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