Bridget Mokwena-Halala is a well-known name in South Africa for her leading role in Assupol. Assupol Life is a South African insurance company that began in 1913 as a burial society. From that modest and caring beginning, it has grown into a fully-fledged life-insurer, serving those who serve and often leading with innovative products and services. Assupol provides funeral, life, savings and retirement products to South Africans and remains a trusted insurer to its clients.
An Incredible Journey
Bridget joined Assupol in 1999. Before then she was employed by the South African Police Service as Senior Manager of human resource management. She has held various positions in the Assupol group of companies, including being Prosperity Life CEO, and was appointed as the Assupol Life CEO and an Executive Director of Assupol Holdings in 2011. She is a Director and Exco member of the Association of Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) and serves on various committees. Currently, she is a council member of the Financial Sector Transformation Council and trustee of the Assupol Community Trust.
Confronting the Obstacles
Bridget faced the common challenge of women participating in the economy on the same terms and conditions equal to men. When she joined corporate many years ago, the corporate model was predominantly male orientated. It was harder to find women mentors as there were too few women in leadership roles. They have since then made great progress to date, however, there is more work still to be done. Capital markets and investors are also paying more attention to corporate performance in terms of gender diversity. Several reasons suggest that gender diversity is a real issue and deserves to be tackled urgently or corporate competitiveness will be at stake.
What it Takes to be a Successful Leader
At present, the world has moved from archaic notions such as the Great Man theory of leadership to concepts like transformational leadership and servant leadership. Peopleneed more transformational leaders that cause a change in individuals and social systems, with characteristics such as charisma, intellectual stimulation, awareness and motivating others. There is also a need for mentorship, sponsorship and coaching as itcontinues building a pipeline of future leaders.
Innovation is the Key to Satisfy Clients
Innovation responds to an understanding of how the company can best serve its clients and make their lives easier. Assupol Life benefits from a century of accumulated experience in the South African insurance industry and it pridesitself in how well the company understands the needs of its clients, and how to best create products and risk solutions that address their needs. However, clients’ needs change and evolve, and so does the surrounding risk environment. Research and product innovation, among several other things, help the company to serve our market effectively. Assupol Lifehas a focused strategy of cost-effectively and efficiently delivering needs-based insurance products and client services to its targeted market segment.As a proactive insurer that is constantly assessing the evolving risk environment, its main aim with its products is to create a relevant and informed portfolio of financial offerings that allow its clients to access financial inclusion opportunities while safeguarding their families’ futures.
Adaptation of Disruptive Technology
Bridget said lockdown restrictions brought on by the advent of Covid-19 placed a spotlight on the importance of digital innovation in business operations. Business doesn’t stop because of the population being compelled to stay indoors. In the long-term insurance sector, the demand for responsiveness and service was heightened significantly as some families had to deal with the loss of loved ones who had succumbed to the disease and others sought to ensure they had sufficient insurance themselves, to provide for their loved ones if they passed away.
Covid-19 increased the speed at which some of the company’s digital projects were implemented. While sales were prohibited during stricter phases of lockdown, the company’s IT department developed a No Touch™ Sales Process to enable face-to-face sales teams to serve clients from a safe distance once restrictions eased. They are constantly assessing the effectiveness of the methods the company uses to reach and serve its clients and they view innovation as a key enabler to business success.
Future Awaits Digital Revolution
The digital world has completely transformed how consumers approach insurance. It isn’t an isolated thing in the consumer’s world, so every experience they have, which is more and more a digital experience, influences what they expect of every other business too. Bridget feels consumers also expect some degree of digital access to their information, and digital means of signing up and managing their insurance. However, there is still a massive gap in knowledge, education, and insurance trust, and that gap can only really be filled by human interaction, supported by various digital touchpoints.
The insurance sector has seen a significant rise in digital activity, not only due to claims resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, but also because businesses are trying to prepare for what life will look like in the future.Assupol’s strength has always been its face-to-face sales capability and the trust its clients have in them. At this point, Covid-19 restrictions presented an opportunity for the company to be innovative about how itserves its clients and to give new energy to existing processes with enriched digital capabilities. They aim to emphasize the importance of keeping staff motivated and focused during this time as well as making provisions available to ensure staff havethe necessary support for their physical and mental wellbeing.
From an operational perspective, Assupol continues to use available customer data to streamline and optimise its actuarial processes. This allows back-office operations to align and share important information across business areas in an efficient manner, which will ultimately benefit its clients with cost savings. Assupol is speeding up the implementation of its planned digital innovations and continues to serve South Africans as everyone adapts to a new way of life.
Word of Advice to the Next Generation
Bridget believes that every leader should strive to leave a legacy that the next generation can build on. The next generation of leaders has the solutions-driven mindset that is required to respond boldly to the country’s challenges. And in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, today’s leadership teams have a once in a generation responsibility to ensure that their companies survive and can prosper no matter what form the world takes beyond the pandemic.