Report by the Short-Term Insurance Chief Executive Officer
As I start writing this report, it is almost one year, to the day, that the State President declared a national state of disaster in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in South Africa. In last year’s Annual Report, I canvassed OSTI’s response to COVID-19 and the accompanying lockdown.
It is also almost one year ago that our entire staff complement was forced into working from home. Despite the changes in the regulation levels of the national disaster, OSTI’s Board of Directors and management have taken a considered decision to keep the office closed and operating online from home.
A COVID-19 Compliance Officer was internally appointed who, together with the Disaster Recovery Team, has been working on a plan to reopen the office, even if only on a partial basis. We continue to carefully monitor how COVID-19 evolves and the vaccine programme rolls out. We do not anticipate that there will be a rapid return to pre-pandemic norms any time soon, as many of the trends and routines that we have adopted over the last year will remain relevant, and several preoccupations and needs developed during the pandemic will persist long after aspects of pre-COVID-19 life resume.
The Board’s COVID-19 Crisis Committee’s and management’s focus continued to be on ensuring the health and well-being of OSTI’s staff, protecting OSTI’s finances by preserving OSTI’s cash reserves and liquidity, whilst maintaining OSTI’s operational well-being by ensuring that productivity remained at acceptable levels.
There was an immediate recognition that leadership needed, more than ever, to support staff for staff, in turn, to support the business strategy. When the national state of disaster was declared, the primary focus was on addressing the COVID-19-related human need for information, including information on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention, and providing access to assistance and resources. When staff are supported, the business strategy is supported. Within OSTI, we saw clear evidence of cohesion, togetherness and empathy in response to the COVID-19 challenge and our operational performance during 2020 is testament to this.
OSTI’s response to COVID-19 and the lockdown was communicated to all its stakeholders in March.
In 2020, OSTI registered 11 095 new complaints, 7% more than in 2019, and closed 10 805 complaints, 17.9% more than in 2019.
Of all the complaints registered in 2020, 786 complaints related to COVID-19, with 562 relating to business interruption insurance and 224 relating to travel insurance. COVID-19-related complaints comprised 7% of all the complaints registered in 2020. The highest number of COVID-19 complaints were registered during June, July and August. A new sub-category of complaints was added to our case management system to ensure total visibility of these complaints and a dedicated team of assistant ombudsmen was appointed to handle them in a timeous and consistent manner.
We started the year with an average turnaround time of 141 days and by the end of the year the turnaround time decreased to 136 days. The 6 Month List, which is a list of complaints outstanding for six months and longer, decreased from 739 in January to 575 at the end of December.
OSTI recorded a monetary benefit and value to consumers in the amount of R119 548 901.55. The benefit/value to consumers who approached our office increased by approximately R22 million from 2019 to 2020. In addition to the new COVID-19 sub-category of complaints, a new closure reason was created to capture those amounts in which commercial offers, in line with the Financial Sector Conduct Authority’s (“FSCA”) and the industry’s interim relief arrangement, were made by insurers and accepted by complainants. The total of these offers amounted to R5 490 182.16.
Despite going into a hard lockdown at the end of March, experiencing connectivity issues, overloaded networks, load-shedding, staff acclimatising to the lockdown and working from home, and everyone dealing with a worldwide existential crisis, as well as undergoing a change to the telephony platform, OSTI scored an overall customer experience rating of 76% out of a target of 80%. This rating increased by 1% from 2019.
As part of the “soft” amalgamation with the office of the Long-term Insurance Ombudsman (“OLTI”), a single website called The Insurance Ombudsman Portal was launched and went live on 4 February 2020. Engagement with the industry on the “soft” amalgamation took place during 2019 and engagement with OSTI’s other stakeholders took place through a dedicated public relations campaign that ran from the end of 2019 to April 2020. This portal provides complainants with a single port of entry for all insurance complaints and enables the seamless transfer of telephone calls between the two offices. As at the end of the year, OSTI transferred 700 telephone calls to OLTI and received 974 telephone calls from OLTI and 514 e-mails from the portal.
Land Bank Insurance Company (SOC) Limited became a member of OSTI and was its only new member in 2020.
The International Network of Financial Services Ombudsman Schemes (“INFO Network”) conference, scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia at the end of September, was postponed but its Annual General Meeting was held online. The office also participated in surveys conducted by and webinars hosted by the INFO Network throughout the year.
OSTI’s Internship Programme, started a few years ago, continued in 2020 with two new legal interns and one new administrative intern joining the programme and with three legal interns and three administrative interns proceeding to their second year of internship.
During the year, several engagements took place with the National Treasury, FSCA and South African Insurance Association, more especially around the industry’s and OSTI’s response to the COVID-19-related claims and complaints. A consumer workshop was hosted by OSTI in September and an industry workshop was hosted in December; both were hosted online.
Engaging with OSTI’s external stakeholders meant being open to explore solutions to new challenges and being flexible to changing the way things have been done in the past and to accommodate new realities.
OSTI’s community outreach during the pandemic in 2020 took the form of supporting new orphanages. In May we donated personal protective equipment and other essential items such as toiletries, stationery and non-perishable food to Kids Haven, a registered child and youth care centre. Thereafter, in July, we reached out to Door of Hope, a place of safety for abandoned babies, and donated personal protective equipment and necessities such as nappies, baby formula, baby puree and sterilising liquid. OSTI, in November, donated personal protective equipment and necessities to Abraham Kriel Bambanani, an organisation that provides residential and community care around Gauteng, with its main priority being to shelter, care for and rehabilitate children who have been subjected to trauma. Lastly, in December, we donated a tumble dryer, nappies and wet wipes to Princess Alice Adoption Home, a place of safety for babies who have been abandoned, consented for adoption, or orphaned.
The disruption to millions of people’s lives and the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has led to an increased sense of unity for all who work at OSTI. The enormous, and sometimes violent, interruption caused to people’s lives by the pandemic has brought about an unprecedented togetherness at OSTI.
The senior leadership team at OSTI has taken more time and an active interest in the personal lives of staff. By taking a more personal approach and expressing empathy and compassion, genuine relationship building has taken place. This is not only good for everyone at OSTI but also good for OSTI.
Through the disruption we have built a sense of belonging in that people feel connected through their shared experiences and challenges, which leads to people being more engaged and motivated and which makes them feel emotionally and personally invested in OSTI.
We continue to lead and support everyone at OSTI through their personal experiences of isolation, uncertainty, anxiety and recovery from what has been a traumatic, painful and stressful time. Going forward, there is a realisation that challenges in people’s lives will not recede when the crisis does. There will be many ongoing challenges facing the workforce, such as mental health struggles and burnout, to name a few.
A flexible work schedule is key in an always-connected world and this can only happen if one trusts that staff will get their work done in a way that will not lead to burnout. Load-shedding and connectivity issues require flexible working arrangements. We all continue to learn how to communicate, collaborate and coordinate on virtual platforms.
When we realise that we are not going back to the way things used to be, we can open ourselves to new opportunities to modify our company culture and the work lives of staff for the better. Our office can be reimagined to accommodate a more hybrid workstyle tailored around in-person collaboration and engagement. The compartmentalisation of work and family is, to a large extent, a thing of the past.
For the first time this year, one of our senior assistant ombudsmen and one of our assistant ombudsmen successfully worked, for some time during the year, from outside of South Africa.
The role of a leader is not only to drive results and productivity but also to keep the company culture alive and serve as a lifeline to staff as they continue to navigate the many challenges of remote working.
As leaders we need to create an environment of both mental and physical safety, and trust. Trust is hard to win and easily lost. Having the humility to admit that, in dealing with a crisis such as the one inflicted by COVID-19, we, as leaders, do not have all the answers, goes some way to building this trust.
On 16 November we suffered the tragic loss of one of our staff members, Mary Tshabalala. Mary had been with OSTI since February 2004 and had occupied various roles within OSTI. Mary’s passing was a shock to the entire OSTI team and was a harsh reminder of how fragile life is. Our deepest condolences go to Mary’s family, friends and her work colleagues. May you rest in peace, Mary.
On behalf of everyone at OSTI, I express a word of deep appreciation to OSTI’s Board of Directors and all the Board’s subcommittees, including the Executive Committee, Audit and Risk Committee and COVID-19 Crisis Committee, for their advice, guidance and support.
I thank Miriam Matabane, our General Manager, for her unwavering support during an exceptionally challenging year. I thank the senior leadership team, and all who occupy managerial roles, for many robust discussions and for making possible all that needed to happen in the year to ensure that OSTI achieved its strategic goals.
The overall improvement in OSTI’s operational performance in 2020 is testament to a committed, engaged, productive, positive and loyal workforce. I thank each staff member for their dedication, passion and hard work during a very difficult year.
Last, but certainly not least, I thank all of OSTI’s stakeholders, including the non-life insurance industry and its customers, who, in turn, become OSTI’s customers, for your ongoing support.
Chief Executive Officer – OSTI