What Namibia’s biggest insurer did to overcome the obstacles of the lockdown
According to Holger Oberprieler, Old Mutual Operations Executive, the key to successfully maintaining equilibrium during times of crisis is continuous, proactive preparation for the eventualities of an uncertain future during times of relative stability.
“Old Mutual places a high emphasis on business resilience,” he said. “Every year we review our business continuity plans to ensure they are updated and stay top-of-mind and do scenario planning.”
“The painstaking groundwork paid off. When COVID-19 hit, Old Mutual was able to execute the plans, ensuring a near seamless continuation of operations. “There was that bridging period where people had to adapt,” he said adding that the effect on productivity was minimal.
Covid-19 presented Old Mutual with a unique challenge, to continue to protect, nurture and grow its customers’ financial future during a season of unprecedented uncertainty, while grappling with the challenges to thrive in a new reality and present a blueprint for the Namibian industry to follow.
A Sudden New Reality
“The demands of a novel crisis do, of course, require novel solutions. One of the most significant shifts entailed a lightning relocation of operations from a central, fully-equipped location characterised by face-to-face human interaction to working from a remote, decentralised and often ill-equipped location characterised by isolation and virtual interaction—all while maintaining productivity, business continuity, customer service and the emotional and physical wellbeing of staff.”
“Innovation is often misunderstood as a high-tech solution to all problems, “but in essence, it is structured change to benefit stakeholders,” he said.
For Old Mutual, Covid-19 has fast-tracked technological innovation resulting in many years of digital progress in just a few months, purely out of necessity. Almost overnight, face-to-face interaction between employees and with customers switched to a digital interface, rendering online tools like MS Teams and Zoom essential.
“Thriving in a new digital reality does, however, require the relevant tools, such as access to a laptop and sufficient internet connectivity, which proved a challenge in some areas. Old Mutual stepped in to bridge any gaps, providing laptops and upgrading employees’ bandwidth to 4G to ensure uninterrupted connectivity,” Oberprieler elaborated on the practical, technical challenges.
Shifting Digital Gears
For Old Mutual whose business model requires frequent interaction with customers, the shift from face-to-face to digital went well beyond online team meetings and brainstorming sessions, requiring the implementation and utilisation of alternative channels, like drop-off boxes for document submission, as well as WhatsApp and social media like Facebook to maintain exceptional customer access and service. Moreover, Old Mutual’s commitment to maintaining the information security of its customers at all times required a secure USSD channel to safely obtain customers’ consent for a digital transaction.
Keeping the Home Fires Burning
Suddenly, the foundation of an established workflow, a workplace culture and the support structure of co-workers also ceased to exist, sometimes leading to culture shock. With this understanding, Old Mutual made every effort to walk its employees through the uncertain times.
“As part of the Old Mutual Limited Group, we are fortunate to benefit from great initiatives available to all 30,000 employees across the African continent,” Oberprieler said. These include access to professional counsellors and weekly webinars on topics like physical exercise at home, coping with stress, managing personal finances and basic tips to enhance productivity when working at home. Senior leadership also addressed employees regularly on the effect of the lockdown on the business. “It is important to communicate effectively. Uncertainty causes fear, and that is addressed through good communication.”
“We encouraged teams to check in with each other. Some teams found it useful to meet at 8:00 am every day to plan the day. Another popular avenue of socialising was virtual coffee sessions, where teams met online to connect with each other rather than only to discuss work. This was an important part of maintaining team cohesion and connecting with each other,” he said.
As Namibia emerges from the lockdown, businesses are opening their doors and employees are making a sporadic and intermittent return to the office. However, Oberprieler cautions against celebrating the end of the crisis just yet. “We are still navigating it,” he pointed out, “but I think we are weathering the storm quite well.”
Holger Oberprieler, Operations Executive, Old Mutual.