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BrightRock 10 Year Anniversary

BrightRock celebrated their 10th anniversary this year, specifically on 31 May 2021, and COVER spoke with three of the ‘bright’ people that have been there from the very beginning; CEO Schalk Malan, Deputy CEO Suzanne Stevens and Executive director Sean Hanlon. 

From Left to Right: Sean Hanlon (Executive Director), Schalk Malan (CEO) and Suzanne Stevens (Deputy CEO)

COVER: What are some of your thoughts on the early days, when you first opened the office with great expectations, but at the same time not sure what the future would hold?

“ If I think about that first time that we moved into our own office space as a collective group of people, that was really special, and it was starting to feel like there was a bit of a heartbeat. There were those special evenings, late at night, picking up a lot of weight as well, you can see there are a lot of scars on my back from working late. But more importantly, seeing those initial things come alive like our first premium calculation and then when that first policy got activated and we started seeing that this is actually something and then the other things around preparing for that first launch, those were the things that really stand out and are memorable.”

“You always had a bit of a shoulder to lean on and somebody to get advice and input from, that is also for me memorable, that binding of the team together from the start.”

“2020 just concertina this massive change in the way in which people are buying and selling things, and this movement away from a one size fits all, commoditised world, into a world where it is individualised.”

“I think for me, what I’ve been quite humbled by is the power of the collective, in terms of a group of human beings.”

“2020 just concertina this massive change in the way in which people are buying and selling things, and this movement away from a one size fits all, commoditised world, into a world where it is individualised.”

“The whole concept of embracing new technology, you know the digital revolution gave us one big advantage here, and that was on the back end, we could build something that was infinitely more sophisticated than other products and other options and solutions in the market”.

“What we understood very clearly and what manifested, not just in the brand, but certainly in the product and the product design, was that consumers wanted more transparency, they wanted to be part of designing a product that they understood.” 

COVER: So if we look at from 2011 to now, what are some of those milestones that you’ve achieved, that stood out for you?

“If I stick to the brand milestones, then I would say obviously, early on, it was the launch of BrightRock, the company, the name.” We actually came to market with a big consumer campaign at the time and we were quite cheeky with the way we entered the market, because as a new brand and a bit of a disruptor in the space, one does have a little bit of latitude to take on the establishment from a marketing and a consumer marketing perspective.”

“Developing a content hub, which we call the change exchange, which has evolved hugely since the early days when we launched it in 2013/2014.”

“The other milestone was obviously also the partnership with Sanlam, them coming in as a shareholder was really giving BrightRock that next step into into the space of a financial services business.”

“I believe one of the key things that BrightRock did, and it was enabled by technology as we spoke earlier, was being able to go back to the basics.”

“If I also look around, developing a business that has got multiple products, multiple means of getting to clients and in the process of building a financial services organisation, I think we’ve done very well towards that.”

“Where I’m very encouraged and where I’m very proud of us at BrightRock and the people of BrightRock, is that every single interaction, every single person, every single client, is for us critically important. “

“For me, 10 years in, the thing that resonates with me is those brave people that started up with us right from the beginning, both advisors and investors, our staff. It really is quite gratifying, 10 years later, to be able to look back and to see this tremendous success.”

“In my experience, having done this the last 10 years, starting a startup, it is nothing that you can prepare for, it’s quite an incredible journey.”

COVER: Definitely as Sean said, 10 years goes very quickly, but I don’t think that you talk about BrightRock as a startup anymore. I think it’s very much a settled and very successful business but you’re still running it owner managed as an entrepreneurial venture. What role do you think that played, in your growth and in your success?

“I think there is a fundamentally different lens to which one looks at life as an owner and an entrepreneur, versus walking into some business that someone else built some time ago. It really is just two different psychosis altogether. “

“No amount of reading books on entrepreneurial-ship and watching icons that I admired in this industry and other industries can prepare you for once you’re in that water yourself. “

COVER: So if we then look at the past 10 years, what are some of the things that you think have helped you get to where you are now? If you look at those things now, what is it that you would have done differently, or might have done differently?

“BrightRock is one of those businesses, that has been able to grow during extraordinary times, is just the courage to take the plunge, and to take action and then not to be afraid to listen to the feedback, to understand what comes back from your clients and from the market.”

“your business plan, ends up being just that, a plan. It’s an important thing, because obviously, it requires you to do a lot of the thinking about scenarios and to just have all the pieces of the puzzle in place. But ultimately, in the end, your plan is something that’s going to change and it’s going to have to adapt as you move along, because it’s impossible to predict exactly how how things will play out.”

“I have a huge fundamental belief in the power of the team and of a multi disciplinary, multi skilled teams. One where, very importantly, all those views, opinions and skills are heard, so where all the voices have a space at the table and where everyone is prepared to hear another perspective.’

“going back to first principles, I think that is something that for me, is absolutely critical. I would describe it as an ability to remain curious, and to always be prepared to explore the creative and alternative ideas, as opposed to just the tried and tested.”

COVER: How did you find getting through COVID? And what was it that helped you to get that performance? But then also, are there any lessons that came out of that, that you think will guide you in the years to come?

“The team at BrightRock was more galvanised than I think a lot of other businesses out there, given the time that we had to learn how to enter a very solid competitive market. So we had 10 years to box smarter, to be adaptive and to be willing to change, take on change and also be willing accept discomfort. “

“For life insurance companies in particular, it was an opportunity to step up, to fulfil their main objective of being able to protect families when they can’t really care for themselves or their loved ones.”

“We said firstly, how can we make sure our clients can engage with us, and they can talk to us if they need to, if a claim takes place, but also, equally as importantly, how do we make sure that our advisors can continue servicing their clients, be it new business, be it servicing their existing policies, and that has been a big focus for us.”

“risk cover was pretty much in the forefront and top of mind, but also advisors ability to engage with their clients with a product that didn’t require new underwriting and engagement, but just using the existing features in the product. “

“the ability to adapt quickly was I think, credit to the team and the team has been galvanised as a result of that, I think we can probably take on more challenges after this and we are stronger for it.”

“Everything that we set out to do will very much be focused on delivering too and executing on our ability to help people navigate those big changes in their lives.”

“there is no doubt that there is a massive migration in the way in which people are buying and selling things, this is not the case of the death of the salesman, but it’s the death of the salesman who is just selling a product”

‘I think 2020 really gave an opportunity for this industry to show off its fitness and to show off its importance.”

“I think there is great potential in the South African market and BrightRock will continue to grow from strength to strength”

Watch the full interview below:

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