Indwe Risk Services – Risk and Opportunity

In a rapidly changing world, Indwe Risk Services is adapting fast to remain at the cutting edge of the sector.

Indwe Risk Services are a risk and insurance advisory business born out of the coming together of two entities.

One was Thebe Risk Services, itself a rebranding of Hoskens Insurance, a company founded in the early 1900s. The other entity was Prestasi Brokers, established in 1972 with a reputation for innovative short-term insurance offerings. In 2001 Pretasi Brokers became a fully empowered organisation, and five years later both of these innovative insurance leaders came together to form Indwe – a name drawn from the isiXhosa and isiZulu name for South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane.

The company continued to grow, and bring in new shareholders.

“In 2016 we introduced Africa Rainbow Capital as shareholders, making us the pre-eminent black-owned advisory business of our kind in South Africa,” says Peter Olyott, CEO of Indwe Risk Services. “We advise clients across the spectrum from individuals to small, medium and large businesses and we deliver insurance and risk advice services to a range of clients.”

Indwe Risk has been predominantly working in South Africa, but in recent years that has started to change. The company has taken steps to broaden its network into wider Africa. Other businesses looking to expand their footprint internationally might look at their target locations with the aim of buying out businesses to establish themselves in a new market, but Indwe has taken a very different approach. This approach has been through an initiative founded in 2013 called the Allied Africa Network.

“We didn’t try to acquire companies in different countries but formed business partnerships to help local companies grow their businesses, becoming more successful and empowering them to be better partners, and that’s started to bear fruit over the last year or so,” Olyott explains.

While Indwe is entering new markets, its reputation has been built on the longstanding relationships it has nurtured in its older ones. Some of its clients, particularly on the individual insurance side of the business, have been with the company for 30 years, an uncommon phenomenon in today’s market.

“We’re big enough to matter,” Olyott tells us. “We have leverage in the market but we’re still small enough to care.”

Converging Challenges

While Indwe Risk is in a strong position, with a good reputation in the market, there’s no denying that the entire sector has been going through interesting times lately. When asked about challenges, Olyott is keen to point out that it’s impossible to point to just one in isolation.

“I think the biggest challenges are the convergence of all these external issues simultaneously,” he says. “You can try to look at Covid in isolation from regulatory changes, technological changes and economic changes, but one is not in a position to pick and choose how those factors interact.”

However, more than anything, Olyott views these challenges as catalysts accelerating already existing trends.

“At the moment what Covid has done is really just accelerate the future,” he explains. “Things that we might have seen happening in 2025 are now a reality in 2021. Even if the pandemic goes away, it is unlikely we will ever revert to how we were as an industry sector. They say necessity is the mother of invention. The companies able to adapt quickly are the ones that will thrive in this new world.”

One example of such a change is the shift away from face-to-face meetings to online, a shift that has taken on some urgency in the shadow of the pandemic, but which was a trend already in progress before COVID-19 appeared.

“Our business is predominantly face-to-face with the larger clients. We’ve had to introduce digital channels and our clients should have options to use whichever channel they choose, so that’s of necessity,” Olyott recalls. “In March last year, we went overnight from a head office to a remote digital business. We had to do it or not survive. Happily, we survived, and we were able to seamlessly make the transition. It’s amazing what you can achieve when the choice is to adapt or die. What it did was start to show up inefficiencies in the old way of doing business. In today’s world, I can have meetings with people in several cities in one day. Those meetings are only an hour each, but to have three-hour-long face-to-face meetings with flights on either side would have taken a week out of my diary.”

As well as benefits, this shift creates new challenges.

“Motor vehicles, for instance. You don’t need to travel as much in a virtual world so clients are driving less, so they want to pay less for the insurance, which means we make less money,” Olyott points out. “Insurance companies make less money, so how do you make up those deficits? You need to adapt or you lose the clients.”

Working from home introduces other challenges to the insurance and risk management sectors as well.

“If there’s an accident, how do you determine if it’s in the scope of employment or not?” Olyott asks. “It sounds easy enough but creates unintended exposures for companies, so we need to identify them and come up with solutions.”

A New Skillset

To successfully adapt you need to make sure you have the right expertise in your wheelhouse to deal with a new environment, but establishing that skillset is a challenge.

“I’m bullish on that point, it brings its own set of challenges in terms of skill. For instance, it’s quite different selling virtually rather than face-to-face,” Olyott argues. “We need people who not only understand our strategic direction but also have the right skillsets and know how to behave in a digital environment. That’s a mindset change for a lot of people. If you’ve been managing a certain way for 35 years, it can be quite stressful to change. So those are the training initiatives we’ve been investigating. How do you maintain a corporate culture in a virtual environment?”

Olyott is under no illusions about how difficult it will be to navigate these challenges, but he is optimistic.

“It will be difficult. I can’t tell you with certainty how it will pan out. What we do know is that we have the product and skills to compete in this new world going ahead,” he says. “I’m a big believer in creating your own future not waiting for it to be created. My time as an executive is spent determining how the world will be and ensuring we have products to work in that environment. We thrive on changes in legislation and changes in situations like COVID-19. Any consultant’s dream is when the game changes and the world has changed significantly, creating opportunities for our type of business.”

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