The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of insurance products among customers, Dr Matt Lilley, Africa CEO of the UK insurer Prudential, has said citing feedback from the insurer's agency force.
In an interview with African Business Magazine, he said that the pandemic has had a significant economic impact, particularly for people in the informal economy, which is a much bigger proportion of the economy in Africa than any other part of the world.
Impact of COVID-19
He said, “The economic consequences of COVID are going to have an impact on people’s disposable incomes and the amount of money that they’re able to put away for the future. But the crisis has also emphasised that resilience starts with having savings, that access to healthcare can’t be taken for granted and that insurance is valuable.”
Commenting on factors for success during the pandemic, he said, “From a purely business point of view, it became a question of who responds best to the same external shock and who steps up and has the energy, motivation and courage to lean into this problem.”
As for actions by Prudential, he said, “We waived all of the pandemic clauses in our products; we gave free COVID cover to all our customers, employees and agents. Our people scrambled to figure out new ways to make it possible to make a claim; new ways to make it possible to buy an insurance product.”
But he added, “It has been a tough year but we were always taking a long-term view and economic cycles are a fact of life. There will always be years where things don’t go the way you want them to. But when you take the long-term view, the pandemic really is just noise. There will be other events that cause short-term blips.”
Opportunities in Africa
Asked for his views on the African opportunity in the long term, Dr Lilley said, “We still very much believe that people are going to want to be able to talk with a well-trained, experienced, qualified advisor so we continue to invest very heavily in building our network of trained insurance advisors across the continent.
“We really believe that there is an opportunity across Africa to enhance the services that we offer to customers digitally. 4G networks are very good; the penetration of smartphones is getting very high now, so we’re investing very heavily. We’re doing it in Africa with a service called Pulse, a digital ecosystem which brings together a whole host of services designed around wealth but also wellness, not just access to healthcare but also disease prevention and helping people live longer and healthier lifestyles.”
Business in Africa
Giving an overview of Prudential’s business in Africa, he said that Prudential is in eight countries on the continent. The insurer started off in Ghana in 2014 and has expanded to Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. The company has about 10,000 sales agents, about 1m customers. This year, it expects a revenue of about $150m.
Given that every country is different, Dr Lilley said, “We try and be as local as possible and try and tailor our approach. That’s why we have local management and local business partners in most of our markets.”