by Cathy Grosvenor

Top brokers honoured

NestLife bestows honours

Winners flanked by NestLife management at the presentation
top brokers nestlife assurance.jpg

“It is not how you start a journey that defines your character, but how you finish,” maintains entrepreneur Vusi Sithole.

Despite what was a challenging year globally, NestLife Assurance, the 100% black-owned life assurance company of which Sithole is managing director, was able to toast the tenacity of not only its own workforce but that of its clients, who persevered despite tough operating conditions.

At a glittering year-end function, held on 28 November at NestLife’s Sandton premises, hosted in a large marquee beautifully decorated in cream and gold, Sithole honoured men and women who partnered with NestLife in 2012, saying they were crucial to future success as the company continued its "journey of building a legacy".

These were fitting words from Sithole who, in October, was named Businessman of the Year at the 2012 Van Ryn's BBQ Awards, the theme of which was Creating a Legacy and Building a Future.

The dynamic businessman took over a company that was insolvent in 1996, then called Life & Pensions Corporation, and transformed it into an entity that is seen as a significant player in an industry dominated by vast longstanding competitors. Then staffed by five people working from a small office in Mafikeng, North West, with only a restricted Financial Services Board (FSB) licence, today NestLife has nine offices, more than 85 employees and underwrote well over R200 million in annual premiums.

Blair Hewitt, NestLife’s operations manager, said that the highlight of the year for the company had been Sithole winning the Businessman of the Year Award. “It is testimony of his commitment to NestLife, his work ethic, dedication, professionalism and passion, and shows we are going in right direction,” stated Hewitt.

“It is an honour and great privilege to share this special day with our business associates and recognise the contribution you make to our success,” Sithole told his guests who came from all over the country.

He shared words of caution and challenge, however, warning that the FSB is taking a firm stance on funeral undertakers that do not comply with the rules that govern the industry.

The FSB insists that all undertakers or parlours that provide funeral insurance benefits, must be underwritten by a registered insurance company to ensure the industry is properly and effectively regulated.

With many burial policies historically managed by funeral undertakers and parlours not registered or compliant with the FSB, ‘bad apples’ were allowed to operate in the industry, and some were responsible for tarnishing the reputations of those who were genuinely committed to helping people at their time of need.

Adhering to the long-term Insurance Act and other regulations has been difficult for many funeral parlours, who are not necessarily equipped to deal with the complexities of compliance.

“Many are still not coming to grips with the stringent new requirements.

“The Solvency Assessment and Management regime is a monster and will have a big bearing on your business,” he added.

He made a call to the industry to respect the FSB regulations: “Show discipline in how you run your business and prove you can be successful without violating these regulations. Self-underwriting needs to be stopped. Commit to good business practice and you will enjoy sustainable success.”

Sithole then challenged those present to rise up and become good leaders in the industry. “After 17 years of democracy, this industry remains lily-white.”

Despite funeral parlours being the main distributors in the funeral insurance sector, contributing around R6bn, they remain on the lower ranks of the industry ladder. “You, in essence, control the insurance industry – yet your standing is low in the sector. This is an injustice and begs the question: Why can’t funeral brokers grow to such an extent that they are able to challenge the dominant players and take centre stage? The industry is crying for leadership – rise up!”

Touching on the current political situation in South Africa, Sithole said the nation is going through a dangerous transition that requires "solidarity from the citizens of this country".

“Let us work together with the commitment to build a post-1994 insurance group that shows the world that given the opportunity, great achievements can become a reality in South Africa. Let us work together to create a giant insurance group that will carry our aspirations for the future.

“Let us make an impact; our time is now.”

NestLife’s entire management team joined Sithole on the stage to honour the recipients of the two main awards. Everest Funerals, Mpumalanga received a standing ovation after being named the Overall Broker of the Year. Sharing the limelight with Everest Mpumalanga was Corporate Broker of the Year, Welsh and Associates.

Regional Broker of the Year Awards, which acknowledged profitability and premium growth, went to: Eastern Cape – Abaxolisi Funeral Directors; North West – Everest Rustenburg; Limpopo – Mateko Group Holdings; Free State – 21st Century Kroonstad; KwaZulu-Natal – Manaba Funeral Fund; Gauteng – 21st Century Life Brokers; and Mpumalanga – Everest Mpumalanga.

“Next year, we hope to have nine provinces present,” Sithole said of NestLife’s vision to have a bigger presence in the North West, Western Cape and KZN, as well as expansion into the Northern Cape.

Progressive Awards went to Tshipi-Noto Funeral Home, Mvuleni Funeral Services, and Indlovu Classic Funeral Home; while Loyalty Awards were given to Jama Funeral Undertakers and Everest Polokwane. Best New Broker for NestLife went to J and B Funeral Services, and the NesLlife Prestige Award, which acknowledges various aspects of the company’s relationship with the broker, went to SDL Benefits Services.

Welsh and Associates’ Nazlee Kyriakidis, speaking on behalf of the clients, said she believes that NestLife puts its clients’ success above its own. “You have an extraordinary relationship with your clients. We are partners in a shared dream. Thank you to each NestLife employee who brings such heart and soul into the business – you make it a pleasure to be your client.” 

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