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Nine leadership questions for Evodia Phahlane, FNB Insure Chief Operating Officer

Nine leadership questions for Evodia Phahlane, FNB Insure Chief Operating Officer
27-03-24 / Kwanele Sibanda

Nine leadership questions for Evodia Phahlane, FNB Insure Chief Operating Officer

Career brief outline

I’m an Occupational Therapist by profession turned Chief Operations Officer (COO) at FNB Life. My role as COO entails looking after the technical operations of the business. My journey started as an Intermediary for a Health Risk Management Company which evolved to Case Manager at a large Group Risk player, managing claimant’s return to work strategies. I then moved to reinsurance as Claims Head for the local entity of a Swiss-based company overseeing the African continent and Mauritian markets. This exposure landed me a role as Chairperson of the ASISA (Association of Savings and Investments South Africa) Underwriting and Claims Conference 2019-2023. I continue to support the ASISA Academy with lectures for Industry Claims Assessors within my current role at FNB.

1. For how long have you been with FNB Life as its Chief Operations Officer?

I've held my current role as FNB Life’s COO for 1 year 7 months.  Prior to that, I was FNB Life’s Head of Claims for 1 year 8 months.

2. How have your previous roles within FNB Life and prior to joining FNB Insurance prepared you for this current role .... Any challenges, highlights, or learnings?

I have always been inquisitive and obsessed with making a difference in the lives of others. This passion landed me in the health profession, both academically and vocationally. Transitioning to life insurance reignited my sense of purpose and ongoing quest to make a difference.

I joined FNB Insure at a unique time, right in the middle of a global pandemic where many of our customers were grappling with the effects of COVID-19, adding a layer of complexity to our work. It was a challenging time, but it was also during this time that I discovered the power of teamwork and innovation. Amidst the uncertainty, I led a team that ensured that we lived up to our brand promise. Together, we worked tirelessly to explore innovative ways to pay claims quicker to help our policyholders and their beneficiaries.

Nothing beats witnessing the positive impact you make in people’s lives at a time of need – this has been the most rewarding aspect of my career. It reaffirms my belief in the importance of our work and fuels my ongoing passion to serve.

3. What would you say are the top qualities of an effective leader?

Many people think that a leader’s effectiveness hinges on the grandeur of their title or position. But the truth is, real effective leadership goes beyond titles; it’s about what you do and how you impact those you lead. 

For me, leadership is all about putting people first. I believe that the best leaders are the ones who can genuinely connect with others, inspire them and light a fire in their hearts to be their best selves. Key qualities in the leadership mix include empathy, adaptability, clear communication, being visionary and strategic thinking. It is also about staying curious and daring to think differently - constantly asking questions and exploring new perspectives. That's how we grow as leaders and evolve as human beings. 

4. What would you say are FNB Insure’s top priority areas for the next year?

At the core of our mission is a commitment to our customers – the families, entrepreneurs and businesses who trust us to protect what matters most to them. Our goal is to be the number 1 insurer for FNB's Retail and Commercial customers and to be there for them when they need us the most. We have spent the past 8 years developing our suite of products to meet their evolving needs. Now, our focus has shifted to ensuring that these offerings reach them seamlessly. This means leveraging cutting-edge technologies, having a robust distribution model and above all, delivering real value to our customers. 

Central to our approach is the human touch. We are investing in strengthening our financial advisor channel because we believe that personal guidance can make all the difference in financial planning and offering our integrated financial solutions. We are also exploring new opportunities in the open market so that we can serve even more people and expand our footprint. 

By staying agile, adapting to market shifts and relentlessly pursuing growth, we are not just aiming for success in South Africa, but across the African continent and beyond. We don’t just want to be the best insurer in the market but the best partner for our customers, creating lasting value along their financial journey.  

5. As one of the leading bancassurance companies in SA and beyond, how do you attract and retain talent? And how can the insurance industry better retain talent and skills?

Ours is a people-centred business. While job security and fair compensation have always been important factors for talent attraction, today's workforce seeks something deeper – a sense of purpose, to feel invested in the work they do and to see their employer invested in them too.  We believe in offering more than just a job but a fulfilling career journey and curating a space where people can thrive. 

Underpinned by our promises,of Help we continue to enhance our employee value proposition to ensure that we offer a great workplace experience and ample opportunities for professional development. 

As the World’s Strongest Banking Brand, our commitment goes beyond financial transactions; it is about being a trusted partner in every step of our customers' financial journey.  The same ethos extends to our employees, we aim to be a trusted partner in both their professional and personal lives.  

6. How do you see technology playing a much more significant role in the insurance space, as well as in product development and distribution in the next few years?

Technology has disrupted all spheres of society and the insurance industry is no exception.  Looking ahead, we cannot underplay the power of technology in influencing the entire insurance value chain - from product design, delivery and customer experience.  For us, technology is an enabler for delivering more personalised and convenient solutions to customers, streamlining operations, and driving innovation. It is about making insurance less about paperwork and more about people. That’s why we are committed to staying ahead of the curve by investing in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and digital processing to enhance our customer experience and improve operational efficiency. 

7. What would you point out as key areas of concern for the insurance intermediary for the next three to five years?

The ever-changing insurance landscape is challenging the way we do business and the key to success lies in our ability to embrace change. For the insurance industry, it is all about staying agile and proactive in a volatile environment. This means navigating through risks and regulations, meeting shifting customer needs and harnessing technology to innovate and grow. Cybersecurity threats are also top of the radar and highlight the need to leverage data analytics to drive innovation and keep up with the pace of change. 

8. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self-one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would tell myself that “your current circumstances don’t define your future. Other people’s paths, though similar to yours, are not yours, and “impossible” should never be part of your life mantra. Aside the detours along the way, your journey is individually, specifically and precisely crafted for you. So, buckle up, prepare for the ride and keep aiming for the stars, scary as they may seem. You will be amazed at the clarity of your destination. You are destined to be where you need to be and there are many guardian angels around you to ensure that you are fuelled up for the journey ahead."

9. What is the one book you would recommend to your audience, and why?

I would recommend Lift As You Rise by ntate Bonang Mohale, a good friend and esteemed leader whom I utterly admire. I come from humble beginnings. Growing up in a village with scarce opportunities and possibilities, it felt like one’s journey was almost predestined. I refused to accept that fate and challenged the status quo.  Through sheer determination and focus, I re-wrote my story and now firmly believe that it is our obligation as businesspeople and leaders to pay-it-forward and lift our communities to create better paths for future generations. We’ve got to be other-centric than self-centred. That, to me, is what ultimate success looks like.

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