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Putting customers first: Bridget Mokwena-Halala

Bridget Mokwena-Halala CEO of Assupol Life

When it comes to insurance, customer satisfaction may not always be the first thing that springs to mind. Complicated policies, hidden loopholes and long waiting times for processing claims are common frustrations for consumers.

The industry is highly competitive and for Assupol Life CEO Bridget Mokwena-Halala, staying ahead has meant prioritising customer satisfaction. “In whatever we do, we put the customer at the centre, because we are here to address their needs. We go out and make a promise and, based on that promise, that’s how we are going to be measured,” she says.

Assupol Life is a South African insurance company dating back to 1913 that focuses on life and funeral insurance. Bridget started with the company in 1999 and has been the CEO for almost a decade. “I saw the role as an opportunity for me to continue making a difference in a number of ways. You have employees who are looking up to you, and advisers and stakeholders with opposing expectations. And what are you doing for the communities that you serve?”

Over the past five years, profit growth has risen more than 20%. Bridget says the key to remaining sustainable is to focus on more than just your product.

Bridget Mokwena-Halala CEO of Assupol Life

“In the life insurance space, you can only have a competitive advantage for a short period because your competitors will easily copy the product. So, the important strategy we have implemented is to ensure that the customer’s expectations are exceeded,” she explains.

Assupol Life is able to deliver on its promises thanks to heavy investment in its administration platform, which enables it to finalise and pay out claims quickly.

“From October last year to February this year, 60% of claims were finalised within the first hour and another 30% were finalised within two hours.”

Bridget says the company’s biggest challenge is that it operates in a highly regulated environment, which is constantly changing. “You need to make sure you are always ready to respond to a new piece of legislation that is about to be implemented. There is no year that goes by without having to change the way in which we are doing business,” she adds.

Another reality in the South African landscape is that many clients live in rural areas. This led to Assupol Life establishing a fleet of mobile offices for convenience and ease of access to services. “People do not always have time to visit our offices, so we make arrangements with employers to base a mobile office at their workplace. People will then be able to go in and make enquiries about policies,” Bridget explains. “As far as I know, we are the only company that has such an effective way of meeting clients.”

“We go out and make a promise and, based on that promise, that’s how we are going to be measured.”

Bridget has also had to adapt the way the company’s life insurance beneficiaries can receive their pay-outs, as many do not have bank accounts. To avoid delays in paying out claims, the company has collaborated with the South African post office. “We send the Post Office a list of beneficiaries to be paid and inform the client to go to their nearest post office to collect their pay-out,” says Bridget. “Being client centric means that we do constant research to ensure we understand the needs of our clients. Then we introduce products and benefits that speak to those needs.”

Bridget Mokwena-Halala CEO of Assupol Life

In 2015, Assupol On-Call Plus was launched to provide instant cash to help support the influx of relatives who will attend a funeral. “In the black culture, if someone dies, family members from all over the country will come and stay in the bereaved person’s home until after the funeral,” Bridget explains. “So, when you submit a claim, within 30 minutes of it being processed, you will receive an SMS with a voucher. Then you can go to any of the supermarket chains and buy groceries using it.”

Despite the success of the business, Bridget is always looking for ways to make it more efficient. Assupol Life has shifted away from its face-to-face model of advertising to a direct marketing approach, which has had a positive impact on the company.

Embracing technology is also important, but Bridget concedes that in the insurance industry, it’s not a universal solution.“We are looking at utilising technology as a tool, but you do have clients who appreciate traditional methods more than technology. Some clients prefer a paper copy to confirm they’ve taken out the policy.”

Assupol Life’s relationships with its partners and distribution channels are a crucial part of the company’s success. Bridget visits them personally throughout the year and in an annual roadshow across South Africa. “We go to where our people are because we want to understand the environment they operate in and we want to understand their challenges. This is so we can serve them better and then they will in turn serve their clients better,” she explains.

This also plays a critical part in developing new products for the business. “We get feedback from the market and we believe our distribution partners play a very important role in giving us feedback on what is required by the market. So the products are actually needs driven,” she says.

The company has expanded upon its offering; its services also include financial and retirement savings plans. Bridget emphasises that as the business thrives, the community must also benefit. In 2010, Assupol Life was demutualised and 25 million shares were allocated to the Assupol Community Trust, which focuses on early childhood development.

“We are very passionate about giving back to the community, and we embark on projects that are sustainable and impactful to the communities.”

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