We spoke to Brightrock CEO, Schalk Malan, to find out how they approached COVID-19 and what the implications will be for financial services.
Over the past months, BrightRock has initiated policies for hundreds of new clients using WhatsApp, digital signatures for counter-offer letters, video conferencing for client consultations and tele-underwriting. How has this been received, and will you be maintaining some of these new processes once the Pandemic has passed?
BrightRock has always offered our clients and financial advisers access to both paper-based and digital service capabilities. For example, our policy documentation has been fully electronic since the outset, and we’ve always offered a tele-underwriting service. With the impact of the COVID, we knew we already had all of the systems in place to be fully digital, and we ran with it. From April to August this year, we went completely paperless and that means we saved 2,1 million sheets of paper.
Virtual appointments ensured we were able to continue running our business and meeting with financial advisers, there were a total of 16 457 online meetings. We hosted 70 webinars with a total of 9 188 attendees to keep in touch with our financial adviser community, saving all the attendees together around 5 working years. Technology may previously have been seen as ‘alienating’ or ‘a barrier to personal connection’.
However, with the advent of COVID-19, we are quickly learning that technology is our best tool to facilitate connection with our clients. We will definitely take many of these learnings on, and think many clients and advisers prefer the digital approach, so we suspect these will then be the default going forward.
Based on this, and past experience with a diverse client base, what do you see as the main priorities for the financial services client of the future?
We believe that insurance and certainty are more important than ever. We love to know that our clients understand what they have bought and that the product will do what it promises to do, when the time comes. According the NMG Risk Distribution Monitor South Africa, August 2020, 58% of clients surveyed felt insurance was now much more important. Younger clients were more worried about the COVID’s impact on importance of insurance. We saw a dramatic increase in servicing changes on our clients’ policies during the lockdown period – up three times relative to the same period last year – as clients were engaging with their financial adviser to make sure their policies were up to date, that they were comprehensively covered and that they could continue to afford their premiums.
This was also facilitated by some of the initiatives we put in place, for example assisting clients to make use of their extra cover buy-up facility to buy more cover and accessing our premium relief option. What shone through was that flexibility, efficiency, certainty, and access to advice are what we see as the main priorities for financial services clients. In particular, certainty – both of premium and of cover are clear priorities for our clients – we think the increase in demand for certainty will for example cause many more clients to want to know exactly what they’ll pay next year (which despite a “premium guarantee” isn’t always a given).
How should financial advisors respond to the new environment and especially the digitisation push?
With technology rapidly changing the way the world and the way we live in it, advisers are probably asking themselves; will robo-advisers or AI bots replace financial advisers? Can a robot truly replace human interaction with clients? At BrightRock, we’re confident the answer to this question is an emphatic no. According a study commissioned by Guardian Life Insurance Company of America in 2018, it revealed that millennials want more access to advisers and value financial planning as much as an incentive or bonus. A need for advice has never be even more important, consumers want to know that the adviser understands their needs and can find product solutions that tailored for their specific financial needs.
This has certainly been borne out by our own experience in this environment, where we saw strong take-up of the digital tools and offerings we made available during the lockdown period, where financial advisers were able to make use of digital tools to meet with their clients and provide them with access to solutions tailored to their specific needs.