Group CEO of one of the country’s biggest insurers, Tertius Stears at Sanlam Namibia, believes the true impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has not been fully realised yet, and said the country will still need to brace for when that time comes.
In an exclusive interview with New Era, Stears said many parts of the world are now in what they call the second wave of the pandemic and while Namibia has not reached that stage yet, he cautions that the consequences of a second wave could be catastrophic for business and the entire economy in general.
Despite dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, Stears feels Namibia’s long-term insurance industry is a stable and a fairly mature industry with growth potential mostly linked to GDP growth and giving access to those with insurance cover.
“The pandemic led to a dramatic decrease in economic activity, which was further increased by the lock down measures, which were all necessary to curb the spread of the virus.
However, this led to a severe impact on disposable income affecting all economic activities negatively. We are only now out of lockdown but not out of danger with regards to Covid-19 but with lockdown lifted, economic activities are picking up and we are beginning to see a small change towards the positive with regards to business,” said Stears.
He continued that before the pandemic, Sanlam Namibia was well-positioned to reach all its set targets, which were based on a strategy of enhancing Client Value through top class innovative products and superior service delivery via sales and administrative channels.
Said Stears: “We started the year on an optimistic note and had plans in place to achieve so much more. With the arrival of COVID-19 however, we needed to quickly shift gears as we faced many challenges on various fronts”.
He explained that on the operational side Sanlam had to adapt to working and serving clients offsite and not face-to-face.
When lockdown was announced, Sanlam, like many other companies, had to think fast on its feet to enable the continuation of its business.
“We were fortunate in that we acted quickly and took the matter very seriously. We were one of the first institutions to close our business early and doing so, allowed us to focus on business continuity in the face of lockdown.
We quickly developed systems and processes that made working from home easy for our employees and clients as well. We developed initiatives such as e-signing which enabled clients to complete business transactions right from their homes”.
Stears added that understanding that the pandemic impacted everyone, including Sanlam clients, led to clients unable to pay their monthly premiums being assisted with premium holidays or reduced premiums to ensure they stayed on the books and didn’t lose their investments.
Sanlam was also able to render all services via different electronic channels.
“We saw a severe decline in our New Business during the lockdown and this has still not recovered to levels of the recent past but we are optimistic that things will slowly start to improve. Like many other businesses we’ve had to restrategise and I believe with time these strategies will start paying off”.
Stears emphasised that Sanlam’s employees are its biggest asset. With that said, the safety of Sanlam staff was paramount during the pandemic and remains so today.
“We had to ensure that our staff were protected and ways were found to keep all staff positive and focussed. We’ve had a few colleagues who tested positive for Covid-19, but we quickly put measures in place to ensure they were supported while in recovery,” said Stears.
Sanlam Namibia remains a major player in the domestic insurance market with an estimated general insurance market share of 28% and a life insurance market share of 17%. Their parent company, the Sanlam Group, has a current market capitalisation of over N$150 billion and remains one of the 50 largest internationally active insurance groups in the world with a presence in 44