Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  14 Mar 2011

INSURANCE: Insurance Company Beats the Odds


Recent Gauteng Business News

Innovative short-term insurer MiWay celebrates its third birthday this month with a bigger and stronger client base than envisioned in its founding strategy, and a strong, differentiated brand.

Initially a joint venture between Sanlam, Santam and PSG, MiWay launched itself into the highly competitive field of direct short-term insurance in February of 2008. At this time, the market was dominated by a handful of direct and broker-led insurers and the likelihood of new entrants getting a foot in the door was considered slim. However, MiWay CEO René Otto was confident that the unique and differentiated company offerings would attract the interest of consumers.

“Right from the outset we were determined to break the short-term insurance mould and give clients what they actually want. This translated into four key themes: convenience, value for money, transparency and exceptional customer service. Our strategy was to excel in these areas as they would determine whether we took the market by storm or faded away in our first year,” the insurance veteran explains.

The roll-out of the convenience theme saw the development of the insurer’s online self-help tool, MiXpress, which enabled clients to address all their needs over the internet. MiWay has a fully functional call centre, says Otto, but the website capitalises on a boom in local internet activity as well as speaking to the needs of consumers who have little time during working hours to deal with personal matters. Today it is quite easy to fulfil all activities – from quote to sign up and claims – through the company’s website.

As for value, Otto says its focus in this area was not being the cheapest in the market. “We have certainly kept our premiums at affordable levels, but while price may get you clients, it certainly does not keep your clients loyal. So we looked for differentiators such as a unique rewards program to encourage the type of behaviour we believe will be beneficial to our business in the long run,” he says.

A distinctive hook for consumers was MiWay’s decision to reward clients even if they claimed during the period. The company will this March start paying out rewards to clients who joined the insurer in their first year, have had an acceptable claims history and paid their premiums timeously and diligently.

According to Otto, the MiRewards program promises to be a winner. Clients really appreciate being rewarded for their loyalty and not being “penalised” for claiming. “Customers have choice, and the fact that they are choosing MiWay and staying with us for three years, is something we truly value,” says Otto. “We hope the way we treat them will make them stay with us”

In 2009 MiWay introduced another value-based innovation: MiDriveStyle. This insurance offering linked premiums to the driving style of the customer, an attractive opportunity for consumers considered to be high risk such as those below the age of 25. The following year, the company broke ranks with the industry again, this time offering recession-burdened clients fixed premiums for a period of three years. Late last year, the financial services provider launched its stand-alone motorcycle insurance. Although other insurers offer similar products, Otto says its offerings were formulated by bikers and therefore offers a fully comprehensive solution backed by a knowledgeable team that understands both the cost and safety aspects involved in repairs.

“Every product or service that we’ve offered since our launch has tried in some way to increase the transparency with clients. We don’t believe in keeping our clients in the dark. We are focusing on building relationships with our clients and this requires trust, so we have put much effort into demystifying short-term insurance, from how your driving influences your risk and therefore your premium, down to the complaints we get.

“It’s impossible to be perfect 100% of the time; what matters the most is how you deal with that 1% that hasn’t gone the way you want it to. More often than not, it is those clients whose complaints you resolve that become your biggest advocates,” explains Otto.

All these issues come down to exceptional customer service at all levels of the organisation, says Otto. The company introduced a service ethic at the outset of the business where every employee is considered to be customer-facing and is measured accordingly.

“Our service ethic recognises that we have external and internal clients that need to receive a level of service that we ourselves would like to receive. We are always working on our service levels with our employees, either through training or feedback or recognition programmes. When you get it right, the response is extraordinary and the workforce becomes far more engaged in the success of the business. The fruit of our obsession with keeping our clients happy is evident from our superior compliment ratio on the consumer website,” Otto says.

MiWay is far from finished with its introduction of innovations to the market, smiles Otto.

“We’ve been watching our cricket boys for tips on how to bowl curve balls, so we have many ideas that we are developing to bring to the market. We are also engaging our clients to find out what is important to them so that we deliver on their needs. It’s this human element that has brought us this far despite the global financial meltdown. And it is this human element that will take us far further,” says Otto.

MiWay has also recently taken the first step towards becoming a fully-fledged direct financial services business with the soft launch of a Sanlam underwritten Life insurance product. According to Otto, the success of the soft launch puts MiWay in the position to grow this division aggressively in 2011. “The popularity of the MiWay brand clearly lends itself to a diversified range of product offerings,” concludes Otto.

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