From the cradle to the grave. This sums up the insurance business, which offers a buffer in the lives of humans and businesses.
However, insurance penetration in Kenya remains low at below five per cent and has been falling in the last five years.
The typical person working in the insurance sector is thought of as pushy and only your best friend during the renewal of a policy.
Enterprise spoke to top female executives from Jubilee Insurance who head the Life business, controlling Assets Under Management (AUM) worth Sh95 billion as of June 2021.
The wide-ranging interview was on how they got to the top and what keeps them ahead of the pack. They emphasised the need for mentorship, which laid the foundation for handling such a huge portfolio.
Retain your clients and maintain solid long-term relationships
Growing the insurance business requires establishing a solid relationship with every client for the long term.
For the team, they look at incubation. This means that a client who’s a small and medium enterprise (SME) might be something larger in, say, five years.
Insurance is a trust business and also a “push” business. Thus, maintaining close relationships also extends to brokers and agents who are the ones who push the insurance policies to clients.
General Manager, Retail Life and Pensions, Wilbroda Odera oversees over 1,700 agents.
She says it requires a lot of engagement and attending to each particular need.
“Dealing with a team that’s purely on commission, you have to put them on their toes to go out, get clients and also see their lives get transformed,” she says.
Giving solutions to clients at the right time
Catherine Kang’ata, the General Manager Corporate Business, says that when she joined the firm, they were at Sh21 billion but have now more than doubled that.
She says the difference then was that they did not have a lot of products, which have taken a lot of work to develop.
“Giving solutions to clients at the right time has been our greatest advantage in the market and the long-term vision for the company to be in the market for many years,” she says.
Kenyans have been noted for a poor savings culture. Ms Odera says their products enable people to save and at the same time take life insurance. The insurance is for education, acquiring an asset or buying property.
“Our retail products cut across an individual’s life, so we look at you from the time you were born, the whole cycle then has products tailored to meet these needs,” she says.
Kenya’s insurance clientele is mostly the formally employed. Insurers have largely been unable to reach out to those in the informal sector. Odera says they have come up with creative ways of reaching out to the bottom-end market with policies that are affordable and creative. This has seen them add 3,000 members annually to their book. And the plan is to even introduce a Sh50 savings plan.
Odera is proud of revamping retail products, pricing them, getting the industry regulator to approve and also training hundreds of agents on the products.
Wearing your client’s shoe
Mourine Makokha, Head of Retail Pensions, says the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted thinking in business on how to help clients.
This is especially on the back of the bad tag that those dealing in insurance have. “As women, we want to change the narrative about insurance because out there people say we are cons, but we are there to help you in life and during your point of need,” she says.
The challenge of the pandemic, especially at its height in 2020, was wearing the clients’ shoes and feeling where it pinches.
This saw Jubilee give concessions as many individual clients were unable to make premium payments.
The company also allowed them to pay in small chunks through M-Pesa instead of direct debits. They also waived premiums and paid for individuals for three months in the event one contracted the virus.
Challenges will always be there, learn the lessons
Insurance is also primarily about convincing clients or intermediaries that buying a particular policy is value for one’s money. The team says a big challenge for the industry has been price undercutting. “The solution for price undercutting lies with the insurers themselves.
If all insurers agree that we are going to underwrite and price correctly, we won’t have that problem,” it said. Owing to the pandemic there have been massive withdrawals, especially on pensions, by both companies and individual clients.
For digitisation, getting the masses online has also been a challenge.
This is because most of the low-end customers they are targeting have no internet access. The team also notes that there are too many rules from multiple regulators that tend to hinder the insurers from coming up with innovative products.
Chief Finance Officer Catherine Ng’ang’a says a harsh 2020 year provided key lessons that have seen them review the business and plan better. This is especially in striking a balance between profits and helping clients weather the pandemic.
“Learning from the discipline about money that 2020 taught us, we want to optimise returns but at the same time facilitate our policyholders when in need,” she says.
Head of Operations Sameera Nanji refers to Jubilee as a digital company selling insurance. This has seen the firm shift more to online for distribution and flexibility in how clients pay their premium – similar to a transaction with an online bank account.
However, she says moving the business is not a walk in the park.
“Every time we reach where we want the goal post shifts because there’s so much more we can give our clients as we come up with creative ideas all the time,” Ms Nanji says.