THE FULCRUM GROUP Q&A:
WITH SARETHA OLIVIER

-BRANCH MANAGER, CORPORATE PRACTICE, MARSH MCLENNAN

Saretha Olivier IIB
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Q: Tell us a little about yourself, and your career in insurance.

A: Born and raised in Bethlehem, I got a holiday job at Drakensberg Co-op in the insurance division, whilst studying HR. This turned into a permanent position when I realised that HR is not that exciting compared to the energetic and technical work environment of insurance. It was love at first sight.

I started off by splitting and stapling policy prints that were printed on huge dotmatrix printers, black to my elbows daily from pulling out the carbon in between.

Twice a week my manager had me read a section of the wording and I had to do tests on the wording. Once I “graduated” on my wording knowledge I were promoted to junior claims assistant. I was over the moon!

As with the “old” ways I worked in every department on every policy type, which I believed served me well, as technical knowledge is priceless.  32 years later I am still loving my work. I have been fortunate enough to work on both sides of the “fence” having worn the hat of both broker and insurer, which helps me understand what drives decisions in the market and not be over critical of the other side.

Currently I am with Marsh in the capacity as Branch manager of the East London, Corporate practice.

Q: Being involved with an insurance institute suggests furthering yourself, your peers and your industry. Which of the three is most important to you?

A: None of these are mutually exclusive. As a member of the Insurance Institute council you have made yourself available to serve your peers and your industry. However if there is no industry, there will be no reason for any of us. Therefore it is important to be involved with the wider insurance market and be aware of trends and changes not only locally, but also in the global market.

Q: To which kinds of people should the insurance industry be offering career opportunities? How do you see your institute helping to make this happen?

A: Young people, of every gender and race!  

We launched our own version of the Insurance Apprentice in 2019. The competitors had mentors working with them in every session, and industry experts joining the different sessions also sharing their knowledge.  The winner joined the president at the AIE.

Q: If you had to make an elevator pitch to someone on why they should belong to an insurance institute, what would you say to them before the lift doors open and they’re gone forever?

A: If you see insurance as a career and not a job, you should join an institute. Being a member opens doors to tap into industry experts and leaders from whom you can learn. An institute is the support structure that can help you navigate professional requirements, assist you in achieving and enhancing your skills and knowledge. Being part of an insurance institute will give you a competitive advantage over those peers not involved, due to the collective knowledge and skills shared by the insurance institute with members.

Q: Covid-19 hit the global insurance industry hard in 2020, with great uncertainty, increased business risk and huge losses. What can and are institutes such as yours doing to support insurance professionals in these difficult times?

A: Through our educational team we have tried to ensure that we get a wide set of topics which give our members insight into economic trends, new markets to allow for growth and soft skills and how to deal with stress and maintain mental health.

Apart from that, we have since the start of COVID done all our training free of charge, by sourcing sponsors to cover the cost of speakers and CPD accreditation.

Q: Staying on Covid-19, this is an issue that will be with us for some time still. What is your prediction around how the insurance industry will respond to it for the foreseeable future?

A: The re-insurance market will without a doubt be reducing capacity, apply more stringent risk management requirements and in some instances walk away from certain risks in total.

We will also see an increase in rating and deductibles. This will have a knock-on effect in our local market, which will follow the same trend.

Placement of more complex risks will become more difficult and clients will become price sensitive.

Increased unemployment boosted by Covid-19 is leading to a rise in socio-economic breakdown, and in turn an increase in crime. Crime is causing certain risks to becoming near uninsurable. The focus in the industry will turn to risk management to curb losses and retain some form of profitability.

Q: Technological advances and direct are two of the biggest drivers of change in how insurance is bought and managed. Both are here to stay – so how does your institute help members to be future-fit?

A: Our highly effective educational team ensure that we keep up with the times, and have ensured that we have service providers who discuss new products, linked to the latest technological apps and developments.

Q: What is the smartest thing you’ve ever seen an insurance professional do?

A: Admit that they will never know everything and ask for input from peers to check their reasoning.

Q: No doubt you’re very proud of your institute. But is there anything you’d particularly like to improve or introduce during your tenure, and make it even better?

A: I would like to introduce a trainee program for school leavers as interns at local brokers. Our industry is not marketed as a career opportunity, although it is a professional field, and we are struggling to get young people to join the industry. If we can get a program off the ground whereby these young people can work side by side with a mentor, who does not only pass on knowledge, but also skills and experience, we might be able to claw back on the scarcity of skills in our industry.

Q: Name one person in the insurance industry who truly inspires you and tell us why.

A: That is an easy answer. Ben Tonkin.

He became my mentor when I joined First Bowring as a 20 year old.

Ben, was the technical training manager at First Bowring, but also held other positions often at the same time. He served on several technical committees of SAIA, SAFSIA and the FIA. He has served on the FSB’s FAIS Education committee, was involved with developing the Multi Mark policy wording and further variations thereof. He was an examiner, tutor and moderator with a passion for insurance.

Ben promoted a school of thought to never stop learning, to question and challenge the insurance stance of the day, always to seek improvement and new solutions. He also firmly believed that a good dose of common sense is essential.

Even though Ben is no longer with us, his wisdom and legacy remains and continue to inspire me.

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