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Financial Planning

Managing and harnessing diversity to foster unity

By: Lizé Lambrechts, CEO, Santam

A large organisation has many leaders. How could that diversity be managed to ensure unity while maintaining the unique talents of different leaders?

  • Our leaders and our people have always been our biggest differentiator – this is because at Santam we encourage our people to “come as you are” as we foster an environment where our people’s opinions matter, because we know that our diverse perspectives create opportunities for growth, innovation and exceptional performance. This was once again reinforced as our leaders pulled together in a unified manner, as South Africa went into a national lockdown and COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.  
  • As an Executive leadership team we understood the requirement of harnessing the diverse thoughts, opinions, and skills which each leader brings to the business – so we met daily to ensure that we were thinking of all possible scenarios as we led our business during these unprecedented times. Not only did these daily check-in’s allow us to foster unity and deeper collaboration, but it also ensured that we made decisions that were best suited for our people, clients and all stakeholders that we serve. 
  • As the lockdown stages eased – we reflected on the benefits of connecting, collaborating and harnessing our diversity of thought – and could identify various benefits that this brought about. It was in this spirit that we aimed to grow, connect and collaborate further as a full leadership team – I then started what we call the “Santam leadership community” where all senior leaders across the Santam group have a monthly connect session where we reflect on lessons learnt and collectively think about how we want to lead Santam into the future. It has been well received and will definitely be a platform where we continue to learn from each other, strengthen our leadership capability but also build a stronger platform where every leader in Santam can contribute and share their diverse thinking and opinions on how we respond to challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 brought us as a business. 
  • In addition to this we also have the Santam leadership accelerator that during these times provided fundamental leadership skills to every leader across the Santam group as they navigated during these times – leaders shared their personal stories with each other to ensure that we continue to grow together and learn from each other. 
  • Last but not least, we also understood that each individual deals with change differently, and to ensure that all of our leaders put their best foot forward and we harness their best talents, we offered key emotional, physical, psychological and intellectual well-being initiatives for them and their teams, so most leaders started their day off with mindfulness, ergonomics or resilience building to make sure that they were well equipped and completely passionate to deliver on our Santam experience. 

Our country and industry is in great need of good leadership. What is your preferred method for identifying leadership capacity and growing strong leaders?

  • Living our values (of humanity, integrity, passion, innovation and excellence) is a non-negotiable as our people lead. We understand that technical competence is an imperative, however leading with empathy, clarity and purpose is what we strive to foster within Santam. 
  • As we develop leadership capacity and capability within Santam we know that embracing a growth mind-set is essential. We have thus improved our talent management framework and built rigorous talent processes that map out future leadership capabilities that are required for us to remain a future fit Santam. These identified future fit capabilities (i.e. creating a compelling vision for the future; solving for simplicity; connecting people and possibilities; cultivating innovation and remaining digitally savvy) are embedded in our leadership development programmes to ensure that we build well-rounded Santam leaders. 
  • In addition to formal programmes we also provide formal and informal mentorship and coaching relationships amongst our people to create a culture of shared and continuous learning. 
  • As an organisation we also monitor young upcoming leaders and we partner with our Sanlam group as they facilitate what we call a ‘future leaders conference’ to keep our young talent engaged and stimulated. 
  • Embedded in our talent framework, our employees that show leadership potential and capacity are also offered stretched assignments and opportunities to grow, develop and thrive. 
  • As an organisation – transformation is also a key fundamental for us and we have invested in tailored accelerated programmes to ensure that diversity and transformation is a priority as we build our future leaders. 

Santam has a large number of supporting brokers that is looking to Santam for assistance in sustaining their business. How does Santam, as a group, provide that leadership?

  • Over 85% of broker facing staff across 50 cities and towns in South Africa were available to ensure ongoing support to intermediaries from the first day of lockdown, ensuring ongoing engagement and ease of doing business
  • We provided a R190 million premium refund to clients for April. We did not recover commission on the refund. The value of the commission benefit to brokers was R24 million. 
  • We have allowed premium relief initiatives of R85 million. This is a meaningful tool for ourselves and brokers to retain clients who would otherwise not be able to afford their premiums. The retention of clients also benefits long term commission earnings.
  • We have actively engaged with intermediaries to restructure and reduce client premiums to respond to changing market risks through the lockdown. We prioritised service delivery retaining operations and claims service levels were consistently above 90% through March, April, May and June, despite significant disruption to our own way of working. 
  • We expanded our client retention support teams, proactively engaging with our intermediaries using AI tools to maximise speed and quality of retention solutions.
  • We supported brokers with requests to extend car hire for clients, extended timelines for compliance with risk reduction requirements and waived minimum occupancy requirements during stage 5 of the lockdown.
  • We engaged actively with the FIA, ensuring regular and rich communication with all our stakeholders, ensuring we incorporate the FIA’s input to our support initiatives.
  • We have started with a podcast series, sharing information on non-financial support initiatives such as how to expand your digital reach, which technologies to invest in now and how to reposition for growth.
  • We have reduced all renewal increases for preferred clients and reduced new business rates in Personal and Commercial Lines, ensuring the competitiveness of our product offerings.
  • We established dedicated escalation channels to ensure ease of escalation and speed and quality of response for all matters related to COVID-19 claims.
  • Lastly we have provided various communications creating awareness of COVID-19 scams, including door to door testing schemes and common email and WhatsApp phishing risks, providing a dedicated Santam email address to which to send suspicious emails if uncertain, also providing dedicated email addresses to access Santam’s IT security team and Forensic teams directly.

How can leaders set strategy when there is so much uncertainty about, even the near, the future? 

  • The difference is in what one understands with the word “strategy” – if it is command and control, prediction of the future   … then yes it will be difficult to set strategy. 
  • However, at Santam we have invested in strategy as a practice, a “learning about the future” practice. We think this kind of attitude is key as the reality is that the VUCA world is here to stay. Now we are dealing with covid-19 but that does not mean that cyber development or climate risk has gone away. We therefore, as an executive team, supported by the extended Santam Group team, regularly scan our environment for trends and possibilities and then invest time exploring what this can mean for us as a business, including our stakeholders.
  • As a result we have become more practiced about staying in tune with an unfolding future and making decisions in this kind of environment, and when necessary changing the decisions as new insight comes to light. 
  • What is also important is having a clear longer term strategic direction for your business that does not “flip-flop” with near term changes. For us at Santam these building blocks of strategic direction are: making a contribution to address the risk protection gap, to continue running a responsible business and to help build resilient societies. These blocks are not blown about with the winds of change, however we may accelerate action or revisit timelines and targets as we know more for example about how the economy will shape and recover from covid-19. 
  • Finally, it is also the quality of one’s leaders. Being able to lead despite uncertainty is a characteristic of innovators and market leaders, and we are blessed in the Santam Group with many individuals who are able to do this with their staff and peers’ support. 

How do you inspire those around you to then support the vision and direction?

  • Someone once said that it is hard to resist what you were part of. And herein lies the key for inspiring staff, executives and Board members about the strategic building blocks. Also sharing and listening, authentically. People are then part of the process and need not be “sold” on the vision and direction of an organisation. 
  • The Santam Group therefore follows a conversational approach to its strategy development. It has a top-down element where executive scenarios about possible futures are shared and debated, with feedback taken on board, also from external experts, the Board and other stakeholders where appropriate. It also has a bottom up element where business and support units themselves set strategies and commitments closer to the ground, so to speak, which is then aligned with the broader strategic framework and peer level units. Sometimes Group plans shift as a result, sometimes unit level plans shift. This conversation is ongoing, and learnings and progress tracked through a group level performance dashboard, our regular governance structures and twice annual Board strategy reviews. But the crux of it is a teaming approach to strategy as learning practice over time, rather than a once off “event”. 
  • Covid-19 has also fast-tracked some aspects of the Group’s strategies on digitalisation which we have found helpful – technology now allows for regular online and face to face conversations amongst the leadership and extend teams. It really makes a difference to have open and regular conversations and check ins, especially in times of uncertainty and fast change; and for leaders to be prepared to really listen, show their own humanity live and in real-time. And as result where it is warranted make changes to strategies as we learn more about what is working, what is not or become more certain, about given risks and opportunities. 
  • This is not to say the Santam process is perfect, but we certainly find value in being in conversation about strategy on a regular basis, learning and tweaking as we go, to ensure we make the most of the market opportunities available to us and to protect the business and its stakeholders where necessary. For example, premium relief and supplier support was not on our plans specifically, but when covid-19 hit our strategic building blocks guided us to do what we can to help.



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