Botswana Life Insurance Limited (BLIL) has over the years played a pivotal role in mitigating financial risk by providing life assurance products.
Through its dedicated leadership, the company has over the years touched and transformed the lives of many from all spheres of the economy. This week BLIL Chief Executive Officer Catherine Lesetedi-Letegele who took over from Reginah Sikalesele-Vaka this year tells Your Money about the company’s success story.
Please tell us about yourself in brief. Outside the corporate walls of Botswana Life what do you enjoy doing?
I am married and a proud mother of two, a sixteen year old boy and a nine year old girl. I come from a close knit family of eight. I enjoy varied activities, I have a passion for gardening and I consider myself a book junkie. I love art, and try as much as possible to read on it and have a few collections. I was born, bred and raised in Botswana, I hail from Mogoditshane but my roots can be traced to Marapong.
You are at the helm of the country’s insurance market leader. What keeps the business abreast of market trends and profitable?
Understanding the value chain and how profit is derived is fundamental to the running of any organization. For a life insurance company, it is about implementing prudent underwriting techniques, monitoring the quality of the business, understanding mortality and morbidity risks and pricing correctly for these risks. It is also about being able to manage inherent risks within the business.
Most importantly, one also has to understand customer needs and product development must be in response to these customer needs.
Having said the above, I would say that our success is a result of our intimate understanding of the market and this has been made easier by the fact that the majority of the senior management team is local and thus we have an innate understanding of our customer needs. We have a suite of products that caters for all market segments from institutions to the high net-worth individuals and the unbanked. Foresight, innovation are necessary ingredients for success. For example, we were the first company to introduce extended family funeral cover, first to introduce a policy with a cash back benefit.
How do you cope with the pressure that comes with running such a huge business?
Thorough planning, effective delegation and ability to multi-task are some of the ways that keep the pressure off. Personally, I’m grateful for my team; because of their high level of commitment and alignment to the vision and their self-drive, I don’t have to worry about everything, the pressure is shared.
My view about leadership is that, it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top, it is the perspective that one brings to the role that can result in one thinking that they have to bear all the pressure! I have learnt to keep my finger on the pulse, in that way I know what I should be looking at and what is expected from me as leader, this has allowed me to ignore the noise and lock on what really matters (it’s very easy to get lost in the maze, particularly in large organizations!).
What challenges do you face on a daily basis and how do you manage to keep it together?
The challenges are numerous and can come from any quarter; it can be a business risk requiring urgent mitigation, a client who is not happy with our service or a decision made by a regulator that negatively the business.
I try to draw a distinction between the noise and those issues that require my attention.
I also try to step back as often as possible to reflect if we are doing the right things. Stepping back and viewing the business from an external perspective provides me with useful insights. I also like to create time to just think about things, in today’s high paced environment not much time is spent thinking things through as it is viewed as wasting time, my view is different!
I’m religious, so connecting with my spiritual side is also important and provides me with a source of inspiration. I also do therapeutic activities like gardening just to clear my mind!
What is your opinion on the insurance industry in general? What can be done for Batswana to appreciate insurance products and their importance?
The industry is playing a vital role in the economy, through the provision of various insurance covers. The country, corporates and individuals are able to embark on projects with the peace of mind that their activities and risks are fully mitigated by insurance companies.
When I look at the size of Namibian market vis. a.vis our market; I am convinced that we have way to go! It indicates that there is a lot of potential for growth and that’s good news for the country as it means that there is more income to be generated by insurance companies and with that comes creation of employment and many other associated opportunities.
I personally believe there’s a great need for education about insurance and not just from Botswana Life as a company, but from the industry as a whole. Batswana can see that this is something that could be of use to them but they can’t really put their finger on it and as such it is the first thing they let go when finances are tight.
Offering long-term insurance policies creates contractual savings which in turn provide a source of funding (through corporate bonds and government bonds) for corporates and government and contribute to economic diversification; this is a point which I’m passionate about which I think is not well understood.
My view is that the insurance market is flush with contractual savings and these savings could be tapped into to develop the economy, the recent government bond issue is therefore a welcome development and we would like to see it continue well into the future.
In just two years Botswana Life has paid over P1.2 billion in claims. Clearly you are big in keeping promises to your clients?
Yes we are. We sell solutions that are tangible so it is important for us to live to that promise. We are very pleased that throughout the years many Batswana have benefited from being associated with us and they are financially better off because they trusted us. The only way this can happen is if we do our part and payout as agreed and I do believe our record speaks for itself.
There is a saying, ‘when you occupy so much space there is little you can do to grow, at best you can maintain your market share’. Is this true when it comes to Botswana Life?
The space we occupy is only 85%, there is still another 15% that we can still move into, but nonetheless, yes, it is a challenge to grow when you are already in such a market leadership position, but we are not taking that lying down. Botswana Life is embarking on a strategy that will see us redefining ourselves, looking into new avenues and addressing our clients’ needs better. The launch of Lore Master Plan is one initiative of many to come. We will soon be launching a new and exciting three year strategy which will see Botswana Life reinvent itself and gear up for the next level of success. Watch this space!
Take us through the developments the business has contributed to in Botswana for the last 35 or so years.
Apart from paying benefits and claims, Botswana Life has contributed a lot to the economy, some of its contributions include development of the country’s first major residential, Tapologo estates, spearheaded the introduction of Insurance courses at Botswana Accountancy College by providing funding to BAC.
We have invested 68% of our assets (P3.6billion) in Botswana, creating jobs for Batswana and proving finance to businesses and thus facilitating the financial well being and success of businesses that we have invested in!
Botswana Life as a company, has for over 19 years been sponsoring the Up Kgale marathon, a race that fosters the growth of athletes and has on numerous occasions been graced by the likes of Bashingile Ndabile. We have also been helping to nurture the musical abilities of the youth through the sponsorship of the BTU National Eisteddfod.
By being a subsidiary of BIHL, Botswana Life contributes one (1%) of its Profit after tax towards the BIHL Trust which is targeted at helping alleviate poverty in the country through assisting initiatives that are in this area. To date we have contributed P10 million to the BIHL Trust! Some of the recent initiatives by the Trust include the launching of the Thomas Tlou scholarship fund, a donation to the Dithapong and many others!
Botswana Life assets are now over P5 billion, you have 85% market share. What’s next?
One thing that I am very conscious of is that yesterday’s success will give us relative success and not real success, so it is great to look back and see how much growth we have covered over the years, but we intend to keep on growing. We intend to roll out products and services that are closely aligned to our customer needs and look into finding new avenues of growth while further entrenching and enhancing our market leader position.
Take us through the Lore Master Plan. What’s unique about what we have seen in the market so far?
Lore is a master plan that gives you a lump sum payout of up to P50 000, upon the death of the policyholder. This money can be used as the beneficiary sees fit, from addressing the funeral expenses to helping clear any debts or hospital bills, it is really up to the individual. In addition to this, there is an additional monthly tax free benefit that the policy will continue to payout for 12months post the death of the policyholder, of up to P4000 per month. This policy also takes into consideration that while you are still living you also need some extra finances, so every 4 years, Lore Master Plan will payout a total of 6 months premium as cash back to the policyholder. Now to me that is a master plan that looks after you whether alive or dead.
FULL NAMES: Catherine Lesetedi – Letegele
D.O.B: 22 October 1967
MARITAL STATUS: married
FAV DISH: Indian Cuisine
HOLIDAY DESTINATION: any destination with a nice clean beach, for now Mauritius
DREAM CAR: Merc convertible