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WITH Tony Van Niekerk

- Cover Magazine

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, and how you became a journalist specialising in insurance.

A: I always had a love for books, newspapers and even junk mail. The more the better. I spent 17 years as a legal advisor/ product developer in the life insurance industry, loving every minute and every aspect of the work. I also wrote many technical articles for various publications, including COVER, during that time and was a member of COVER’s Editorial Board. When me and my family decided to relocate to Cape Town, I bought COVER and plunged headlong into the wonderful world of media, marketing and journalism.

Q: Similarly, please give us the rundown on your title. What do you cover, who is your audience, how can they access your content and why should they consume it?

A: COVER is a media platform aimed at connecting everyone interested in the world of insurance, financial planning, and risk. Soliciting, creating, and distributing content is the way we achieve this goal. We promote a holistic approach to brand building and business promotion, using every media types (video, podcast, editorial, advertising) on all available platforms (magazine, web, newsletters, webinars, events, and social media) to reach our audience via mobile, laptop, desktop, and tablet.

Our audience spans the length and breadth of the African continent where we have readers in more than 20 different countries, South Africa being by far the largest. The best place to get to know us is on our website www.cover.co.za, where you can subscribe at no cost to any of our publications and newsfeeds. It is our aim to grow the knowledge and access to information for everyone in the industry and we, therefore, ensure that we have enough advertising support to provide access to all our material at no cost.

We also have an in-house built, world-first WebMag that was created specifically to read COVER on a mobile. The best mobile magazine reading experience available. We even adapt our clients’ advertising for them to render effectively on mobile. You can share single articles directly from the magazine and we even install clever chatbots to our clients’ advertising where needed.

Why consume our content? Because we strive to provide only the best, most relevant, and up-to-date thought leadership content at all times. This has made COVER one of the most trusted media brands on the continent. When we publish something, it has been checked, verified, and evaluated for relevance. Our motto: No hype, no speculation, just the facts.

Q: Covid-19 knocked the insurance industry hard in 2020 – but it was not the only big thing to happen. What were the biggest impacts you observed, locally and globally?

A: Soul searching – Individuals, businesses, industries and Governments all had to re-evaluate their reason for existence and re-focus their priorities, whether they liked it or not. My top three stimulators:

1. Isolation – We locked ourselves away from others, stayed two meters away even when we reluctantly had to go close to them for essential reasons like shopping, and we started hiding behind masks and sanitisers to prevent any memory from unintended contact. We then started to realise how much we miss contact with loved ones not in isolation with us. Businesses had to adapt their models, delivery products, basically everything and really reconsider what they do, how, where and for who.

2. Work from Home – Work-life balance took on a whole new meaning and we finally discovered what it really means to have our personal and work environment completely intertwined. We got to know each other’s dogs, kids, lounges and many other rooms in the house. Home improvements skyrocketed as we reshaped our “nests”. Most people will never go back to five days a week in the office. The fall out from this is immense. From the petrol attendant to the coffee shop waitress, the street vendor to the tyre shop, everyone will be affected. It’s a whole reset of society.

3. Adaptability – We had to learn how to plan our shopping trips, how to keep kids occupied but still carry on with their schooling, at home and then we had to get everyone in the family supporting mom and dad while they get through their work and ZOOM meetings from the bedroom, the office under the stairs etc. Companies went from 100% office staff to zero in two to three weeks. Systems had to be made accessible, but still robust and secure, managers had to learn how to manage remotely.

Q: What are the most exciting developments – business, technological, regulatory, product or otherwise – that you see happening in insurance in 2021?

A: When it comes to business and technology, the penny has finally dropped. Every company has to optimise technology to survive. Good use of technology is now just a ticket to the game, then you look at innovation to compete. The insurance industry now realises the potential of technology and a whole new world of opportunity has opened up in front of us.

The most exciting thing for me is that we have now realised that we can actually bend our own internal rules, easily and quickly. We can give people

premium holidays, we can put loan repayments on hold, we can give people discounts for driving less, even if we don’t have a fancy app. All we have to do is make a decision, as simple as that. I believe there will be a revolution in innovation in the industry over the next five years. All the skunk works of the past decade have now been catapulted into mainstream thinking, for even the most conservative of leaders.


Q: Every industry has its movers and shakers, disruptors and game-changers. Who or what do you think are the “people/developments” to watch in the South African insurance industry?

A: We have built incredibly innovative technology solutions providers that include administration platform providers, plug in solutions providers like claims platforms, problem solvers like burst geyser alerts, telematics, AI to improve call centre agent accuracy etc. First and foremost, these are the guys to watch as they effectively stimulate innovation in our industry.

Hand in hand with this will be innovation in how we interact and communicate with our clients. We have realised how unclear agreements can come back to bite us with Business Interruption. Again, we will harness technology to innovate.

Cyber is the next potential big “pandemic”. During COVID we could still all go home and carry on with our lives. What if there is a globally spread cyberattack that brings everything to a standstill, even for just a week or two.

As an insurance model, I see parametric insurance taking off massively across the world, even involving governments in large scale. This will be very exciting for inclusivity.

Lastly, embedded insurance will penetrate every aspect of our lives where insurance will simply, automatically, form part of many of our daily activities like shopping, driving, travel etc.

Q: What do you think are the best things about the insurance industry, and what could be done better?

A: Exciting – Number one best thing is that we prevent people from going back to square one when disaster strikes. We ensure that the hard work from yesterday is there to build on tomorrow.

Disappointing – Where we have failed is that we have not been able to have more people benefit from what we do.

Action – I am a firm believer that, if you want someone to hear you, you have to “speak their language”. We have to learn how to speak the language of those who are not hearing us and therefore not benefitting from what we do.

Q: All journalists get to cover stories that are unforgettable because they’re important, shocking, tragic or funny. Briefly, what is your favourite insurance story ever?

A: That is a tough one, but, if I have to choose, it is covering conferences in other African countries. I have been privileged enough to have covered conference in 17 African countries. I just love the adventure, the diversity and the “ realness” of the various countries. I avoid staying in hotels or traveling in shuttles. I stay local, eat local and travel with the locals. The stories I can tell range from melting shoes while walking in 50 degree heat in Sudan to sitting in traffic for three hours while moving only 10 km, rolling boulders out the road in a tuxedo or walking home at midnight through a maze of dark alleys in Morocco. Every event is an amazing experience.

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