BY VICTOR ADAR
If you are mourning and someone offers you a cheque of good amount, chances are that you will stop and smile while grudgingly looking downwards, and then continue grieving after that. Believe it or not, funerals are extremely expensive in certain parts of the country with budgets going for thousands, and even millions of shillings. Try to put in mind the budget for coffin, embalming, morgue storage, newspaper and radio adverts, tents, transport, burial permit, and of course, other over heads. Insurance products might be a game changer.
Davis Ongiro, the general manager of Octagon Insurance limited, a brokerage wing of the Octagon Group which also provides pension management, and actuarial services, says empowerment and well targeted financial services products are perhaps the most crucial especially when it is about peace of mind and support. He feels that success will only come as a result of adequate planning and being driven by innovative products.
“We are working on a scenario whereby through our systems, you are able to get a quote or insurance online,” he explains. “Within two minutes you have already logged in and we generate a quote for you and you will choose which insurance you would like to work with and we purchase a policy for you. It is working out, I am very optimistic and the next five or so years we will see a lot of penetration putting in mind that we will have a lot of connectivity to internet and access to smart phone.”
Our interview was deliberately done online in order to adhere to the precautionary measures against corona virus disease. Real time meeting through “Zoom” video conferencing platform came in handy. When his network was not clear and voice fading away due to unstable internet, he would apologise and suggest that he could switch from earphones to loud speaker instead. He is a chilled and soft spoken man who takes his time before responding to a question. It took 50 minutes to explore through his work journey, goals, and what he is passionate about. It was last month (May), Wednesday mid-morning.
He confessed that things were quite tough at the start because he took a break from insurance brokerage and joined pension for six years. He had to relearn everything else he had forsaken. Yet, he had to work closely with a new team. He says the first actions when he took the current position in May this year included streamlining communication channels, focusing on one of the key pillars of the firm which include customer satisfaction, automating and digitizing.
In August 2019, he says, Octagon launched a digital pension plan called Mobikeza in a bid to bring on board workers in the informal sector with inconsistent income to a platform to save for their retirement through a contribution plan via USSD, or an app.
“It is a bit challenging but as we speak now things are running, we are working on automation so it’s a very good experience as we speak. We are trying to rewrite history and have a member or our clients who are completely satisfied with our service to recommend us to other people. On a personal level I would like to see a lot of growth so that we have a business that makes profits and is able to grow and stand on by itself.”
Last year, he says, a report released by industry players indicated that insurance penetration was at its lowest (ten year low) standing at 2.8% thanks to lack of information and education on products, and trust issues, just to mention a few. At the same time, a report by KPMG on insurance trends to expect in 2019 shows that 71% of insurance chief executives have a predilection to automation and digitization.
With the bulk of Kenyans giving up the fight to purchase insurance products through traditional ways due to the increasing number of digital platforms that are perhaps convenient and efficient, Ongiro says players are recording significant growth. In terms of the last audit, he says: “we are closely near Sh200 million as a brokerage alone.”
He holds a BSc. in Actuarial Science from South Eastern Kenya University, a diploma in pensions from the Institute of Pensions Management and is currently pursuing a diploma in insurance from the College of Insurance (he is in the last semester) and an MBA degree at University of Nairobi.
Previously, he served as a senior manager for business development at Octagon Pension Services limited. He was promoted to be branch manager, Kisumu office, where he served for around three and a half years before moving to Nairobi to become a business development manager for branch network, and would later be promoted to senior manager business development. It is also interesting to note that he has worked for the CIC insurance company, National Bank of Kenya, and Britam before he joined Octagon as business development executive.
What he hopes to achieve is a mass take over, or purchase of their products that include “easy cover”, “life” and “general” insurance. Easy cover for instance, speaks to the hearts of the people in the village because it offers benefits to those who lose their houses, children, parents, or parents in law (God forbid). Such a product sells like hot cake in the village.
“As a firm you must be able to understand your population niche. Who are you selling these insurance products to? More often than not probably your clients are the young generation. And you cannot sell a young generation something the way it used to be sold 10, 15 years ago. Currently everyone has a smartphone, they have access to internet. We are leveraging on that to ensure that we have an increased market reach so that we are able to reach that lady in the university or that young man out there who have access to internet,” he says, adding that demand is rising for digital products.
At the same time, a top manager must be a business prospector. It doesn’t make sense to visit a village and sell an education policy to somebody who is aged 50 – their needs are completely different. It is at the back of this that it is important to approve products which are customer centric in the sense that they address the immediate needs of the clients. As long as an immediate need of a client is solved, business will thrive. “That is our aim as a business… to ensure that we are not just selling any product just because they are available but we are selling a product that meets the clients need,” he says.
For a long time, insurance has been known for so many bad stories. It is a messy environment so much that there are individuals who would want to do the wrong thing and at the wrong place, stealing from unsuspecting customers. But Ongiro says there are layers these days to ensure that the players are not caught up with fraud. Their programs, for example, have proper approval systems and due diligence is done before any transaction is properly executed.
To him, there are ways to overcome such challenges, and putting systems that are able to detect fraud at the earliest opportunity is one of those. He believes that insurance access will continue to grow slowly but surely. Octagon has scooped the Top 100 SME awards two years in a row (in 2018 and 2019). In 2016, it was named the best pension provider by World Finance.
“In the next one or one and a half years we should be at the top 100 companies as a broker. We should not be edged out especially when we understand that we are solving a human problem… and I am very optimistic everyone in this market have their very own good share. We have served clients in the pension industry for a long time, and then we decided to diversify to training, pension services… we’ve been given so many awards (on pension) those are the same people who are here now,” he says.