To be in business in Zimbabwe is to face a multiplicity of challenges. High rates of inflation following decades of fiscal instability make daily life difficult for everyone. For an insurance company to show growth against this background, however, is a sure sign that it is in tune with its market, and growth is just what Zimnat has succeeded in achieving over the last two years. “Survival is no kind of a business strategy,” says CEO Mustafa Sachak. “The opportunities are there: people need to insure their lives and their assets, expand existing business and start new ones.” The market for Zimnat falls into four main categories, general insurance including motor insurance, life cover, microfinance (limited duration loans) and asset management. 

Sachak is determined that Zimnat customers should not only be as well served as those in any other part of the world, but that each individual experience, each interaction, should be exciting, enabling and energising. In a society where queuing, economising and frustration are only too familiar, he wants them to take away a more positive impression when they look for cover or seek to borrow money. The global insurance industry is being transformed by technology and Zimbabweans are not going to miss out if he has anything to do with it.

It’s not easy for Zimbabwe businesses to get access to foreign currency. Turning this situation into an opportunity has been Mustafa Sachak’s mission. “We needed a core banking system to run the microfinance operation, so we created an in-house team to develop that.” The system is in beta testing, he confirms, and with that in place it will be possible to develop other digital capabilities around it.

The company is now able to adapt to the changing demographic of its customer base. Whereas in the past it would have focused on Generation X, people born before 1980, it is today typically engaging with Millennials who form the majority of the working population in Zimbabwe. These customers are digital natives with corresponding expectations. Understanding this, Zimnat is looking at developing behavioural and predictive analytics that will learn from the customer’s social habits and networks. “At its simplest, if a policy is due for renewal, behavioural analysis can allow us to personalise their reminder and look at whether other products could be of benefit to them; it has been shown to improve our renewal rate and provide opportunities for cross-selling and upselling,” says Sachak.

In 2019 Zimnat started implementing a powerful new tool that is streamlining its business. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is truly transformative, he enthuses. “As I often say, our aim as a business is to be number one for customer experience - to really wow the customer and create raving fans for Zimnat. That is why we developed software bots to perform some of the most repetitive tasks that were taking up time in the back office. This way we have achieved a 92% reduction in the time it takes to process a loan application. Customers needing a loan typically need a quick turnaround of their application. “Where it formerly took up to a week from loan application to completion we can now turn it round in hours and pay the customer via mobile money.”

Staff are freed from repetitive tasks so they can be allocated to more fulfilling work, work that both adds value to the business and serves the customer better. Having proved it within the microfinance, the teams have created further bots to bring the benefits of RPA to the life insurance business, again cutting processing times.

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If a policy is due for renewal, behavioural analysis can allow us to personalise their reminder and look at whether other products could be of benefit to them” - Mustafa Sachak, CEO, Zimnat

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Data is the key to this transformation, and Zimnat recently added two members of staff to its team dedicated to data capture and analytics. There’s a mountain of data available within the four business units, and refining the data lake is simplifying decision making, and freeing staff and customers from the burden of form-filling, manual processes and repetition. Simply, with the data available at their fingertips and a much better and broader picture of the customer, staff can concentrate on adding value and understanding their current and future needs. A refined data lake is essential to RPA, delivering the further major advantage of minimising processing errors, lowering business risk and ultimately delivering a fast and reliable digital service to all those raving fans.

The technology is being extended across all business units, and having control of it in-house circumvents the problems associated with using third-party platforms. Apart from the currency issue, maintenance, customisation and further development are in the control of the company, and an opportunity is created by being able to generate hard currency by selling or licensing the software abroad for hard currency. 

“A key advantage for us here has been our partnership with Sanlam, one of the biggest internationally active insurance groups in the world and the largest non-banking financial services company in Africa,” explains Sachak. “Sanlam acquired a 40% interest in Zimnat in 2015, and through this partnership we gained many advantages, from training and secondment opportunities that have helped attract top talent to the digital teams, to the access it gives us to wider African markets. Our in-house fintech capacity has been boosted through Sanlam’s considerable reservoir of technical expertise and product knowledge.”

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Within Zimbabwe itself, the backing of Sanlam increases client confidence in the long-term stability of the business, an important asset in the prevailing economic environment. For its part, Sanlam has gained valuable access to a company that has proved it can thrive and grow in a difficult economic environment, and to a valuable source of talent to support its own growth. It’s worth mentioning here that as well as the data and services that exist within Zimnat and Sanlam, Zimnat’s majority shareholder the Mauritius-based pan-African Masawara group has interests including health, hospitality, real estate and ICT. Partnerships like these confirm Zimnat’s position as a key asset in the national economy.

Zimnat’s digital transformation is a never ending process, Sachak noted. He wants to be alive to the changing needs and expectations of Generation Z and even Generation Alpha. Young people are not traditionally thought to be interested in insurance products but they soon will be, and for many in Zimbabwe responsibility comes early. They need protection as much as anyone. Another technique Sachak is keen to use is behavioural analytics. “Behavioural and predictive analytics gathers data from a person’s preferences, social media interactions, travel habits, apps and more to personalise our product offering for them, and predict their wider needs whether in real time or in the future. When customers’ policy renewal date comes along, for example, we can do more than simply remind them: behavioural analytics allow us to customise the most cost effective package for them, and suggest other products and services available within the group.” 

It’s a vision for the company that he is keen to deliver, while accepting it won’t happen overnight. “Different leaders within the organisation will be able to move at different speeds. We need to experiment, take a 360 degree view of the business as a whole, and help all our people to understand that vision.”

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