Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Stuart Parker
As a subsidiary of one of the largest financial service companies in Malawi, Old Mutual Life Assurance’s long-term savings, insurance and investment solutions have been a staple in the country for the best part of 80 years, and the Company is showing no signs of loosening its influence within the market moving forward.
Opening its first official office later in 1954, the evolution of the Company ever since has been concerted and regionally significant, leading to a key milestone in 1999 which saw the Old Mutual Group demutualised, and the Old Mutual Life Assurance Company Malawi Limited as we know it today, incorporated.
“In recent years, the Old Mutual Malawi Group has registered tremendous growth, capitalising on business opportunities within Malawi and incorporating the following subsidiary companies: Old Mutual Investment Group; Old Mutual Unit Trusts; Old Mutual Pension Services Company, which was borne out of the life assurance company and MPICO Limited, the Group’s Property Management Company,” introduces the Company’s Managing Director, Tavona Biza. “Old Mutual Life Assurance Company currently caters for more than 180,000 customers in Malawi. Its back office divisions include underwriting, actuarial, claims management, data management, accounting and finance, and audit, risk and compliance; while the front office includes customer services, business development, sales and marketing.”
Diversifying and expanding continuously since the landmark 1954 opening in Malawi, a constant refinement and overview of what’s needed in the market, and what’s best for its customers has led to the current array of products and services.
Solutions on the corporate products and services side include pension administration; retirement planning; group life assurance cover; group funeral benefit insurance; and bancassurance which umbrellas credit life assurance, key man insurance and funeral cover. Meanwhile, on the retail products and services side sits its Timba funeral plan; a combined savings, retirement and risk product named Greenlife; Tsogolo savings plan; insured pensions; and the retirement savings preservation plan.
“We are continuously challenged as a Company to respond to our customers’ needs and adapt to the ever-evolving operating environment,” Biza says. “We have embraced bancassurance and digital platforms in our distribution and customer servicing strategy as they provide a means of not only communicating directly to the customer and reaching many customers at a time, but also communicating in real time.”
A triumphant consequence of being so vigilant across its portfolio has been the majority share enjoyed by the Company in terms of net premiums collected by the insurance industry. As market leaders, Old Mutual Life Assurance Malawi has created a perfect cycle whereby its established business successes foster future innovations, which further compound its status at the top.
“Our pensions offering, for example, has evolved from a basic retirement plan and group life cover to a package that offers add-on benefits such as disability cover and excitingly a funeral insurance benefit paid within 48 Hours of receiving all the documentation,” Biza continues. “Benefit payment on its own has evolved from paying physical cheques to employers to making electronic fund transfers directly to members. Currently we are also exploring the mobile telephony channel for the benefit of our valued customers who are widely spread, geographically.”
The launch of the Company’s Timba funeral plan and the Tsogolo savings plan are further examples of this ability to adapt to the very latest consumer demands; the latter in particular being labelled as a revolutionary product as a mix of both long-term savings and short-term flexibility should unforeseen emergencies arise.
And behind each new innovation is a tireless research and development team keeping a close eye on these aforementioned target markets.
“We also use a variety of different distribution models to ensure that the products are targeted at the right audience,” Biza adds. “One example of such is our Tsogolo savings plan where premiums are deducted at the source; the salary for the employed.
“Our research indicated that many policies using alternative payment methods were lapsing before the customer had achieved their intended goals. All things being equal the longer a savings policy stays in force the better value the customer derives from the product.”
Two pivotal industry fluctuations that have currently caught the attention of Old Mutual revolve around decreasing disposable incomes, and financial inclusion’s facilitation of sustainable development goals (STGs); with the Company subsequently introducing new products to help combat or leverage such trends.
“Regarding the first industry demand, our savings monitor continuously indicates each consumer’s intention to cut on savings and insurance and prioritise basic necessities; mostly short-term and tangible products. High premiums and long-term financial plans in the strictest sense would therefore soon no longer appeal to the majority of Malawians,” Biza details. “Hence the Tsogolo product was developed with this in mind. It has a long-term savings pocket that allows you to save for that big goal whether it’s a car, child’s university education and so on.
“We also realised that customers don’t typically go the full term; not because they don’t want to, but because life happens, so we put in a short-term pocket from which they can withdraw up to 20 percent of their savings if an urgent need arises without surrender penalties.”
Old Mutual recognises the uncertainties in life within its products and services, leading it to the second new product whereby the Company opens up about the idea of financial inclusion to help increase access and the use of financial services.
“Old Mutual recognises the clear link between financial inclusion and development and in response we are not only offering free financial literacy to the masses but also relevant solutions,” Biza affirms.
Facilitating each new product and innovation is a similarly honed focus internally, encompassing ongoing capital investments and behind the scenes improvements.
Biza continues: “We are able to respond quickly to market needs compared to our competitors as we have the capability to learn and adapt systems which have proven to work elsewhere within the global business.
“We have just completed the roll out of a world-class retail administration system with cutting edge capabilities. Our employee benefits system is also very robust providing our corporate customers with online access to their benefit statements, which was a first of its kind in this market.”
Ahead of the curve
“When all is said and done, systems are just systems and what matters are the people who use them. As Old Mutual we are uncompromising when it comes to investing in the development of our people because it is only with trained, competent and motivated staff that we are able to provide real value in our customer servicing.”
This rallying cry from the Managing Director sets the tone for the Company’s most prized asset: its people. Certified as a Top Employer, the faith and development instilled into each individual is sector and region-renowned, compounded by state-of-the-art training that is carried out both internally and externally.
Biza continues: “Naturally we also ensure that our employees are competitively and fairly compensated for retention and in our strategy, we search for talent within our local market before we look elsewhere for human capital resources.
“As part of an international organisation, Old Mutual also has a vibrant mobility programme which allows us to receive certain talent from overseas and also to expose our talent to international experience. All this is done to ensure that there is cross pollination of ideas so that Old Mutual stays ahead of the curve and most importantly, the Malawian market also benefits from it.”
Biza is a prime example of this strategy having been exposed to numerous markets and disciplines before taking on the role of Managing Director in Malawi, and this kind of ethos lends itself perfectly to transferring knowledge and technological expertise to an expectant clientele. Currently he is also in the process of assisting in the development of actuarial expertise in the country.
He concludes: “We believe our customers are the reason we exist. A lot of initiatives are conducted aimed at improving the customer experience and this culture derives from our vision ‘to be our customers’ most trusted partner; passionate about helping them achieve their financial goals’.
“We are therefore able to offer a superior service backed up by dynamic administrative systems and competitive investment returns. This allows us to leverage our brand and the trust clients have built in us over time.”