Nine leadership questions for Nash Omar, CEO, Hollard Insure
Like many in our industry, insurance found me rather than me choosing it. That was 42 years ago, after our teachers’ strike during my matric year put an end to my dreams of becoming a Chartered Accountant (CA).
My lifelong friend (and Hollard colleague) Abdul Ebrahim got my foot in the door at Fedsure General Insurance. I started at the bottom, in the mailroom, and I worked really hard, showing resilience and being determined to get ahead and not allowing circumstances at the time to define my destiny. Of course, insurance has turned out to be exactly the right career for me.
1. How long have you been with Hollard, and as Hollard Insure CEO?
I became a Hollardite when Hollard acquired Fedgen in 2001. Since then, I have served our short-term insurance business, Hollard Insure, in various guises (including Etana and Hollard Broker Markets) in different ways, but almost always broker-facing. I became Hollard Insure CEO in August 2022.
2. How have your previous roles within Hollard and prior to joining Hollard prepared you for this current role ... Any challenges, highlights, or learnings?
I’ve done many different jobs in insurance: filing, data capturing, hand-writing policies, proofreading policies, managing claims and underwriting, to name some, and I’ve led teams big and small. A big focus for me, especially at Hollard, has been on brokers and broker relationships. This has, by far, been the biggest highlight of my career.
Everything I’ve done in this industry has led up to my current role. There are too many challenges to mention, but an important learning is that great insurance isn’t about risk, policies and claims – well it is, but it isn’t. It’s actually about people.
3. What would you say are the top qualities of an effective leader?
Integrity is an essential leadership trait for leaders in organisations, and it is especially important for top-level executives.
Communication – effective leadership and effective communication are intertwined.
Self-awareness and humility are paramount for leadership.
Gratitude: being thankful can lead to higher self-esteem and to being a better leader.
Other important qualities: learning agility, influence, empathy and respect.
4. What would you say are Hollard Insure’s top priority areas for the next year?
Hollard Insure’s key focus areas, as defined by its key shareholders, are:
- Growth: if we’re not growing, we’re moving backwards – and in the current challenging market, growth is vital for survival
- Loss ratio remediation: we’re working on improving this key business metric, which directly speaks to our profitability
- Shared-value initiatives: to fulfil our Better Futures business purpose, shared value – essentially, where everyone’s a winner – is the way to go
- Portfolio risk management: geomapping and assessing risk exposures to weather-related perils and impacts under various scenarios
- Analysis of infrastructure risks to assess potential impacts on our business and products
- IT: we use technology to drive efficiency and cost optimisations. IT is also used to modernise and future-proof our business
5. As a leading global insurance brand, how do you attract and retain talent? And how can the insurance industry better retain talent and skills?
Growing our own timber. Respondents to the Inseta Status of Skills in the Insurance Industry report saw in-house training and mentoring as key to upskilling staff. Most spoke about the need for skills transfer from older, experienced employees to newer employees.
Our purpose at Hollard is to enable more people to create and secure a better future, and one way to do this is by fostering a learning environment. Every Hollardite has an individual development plan that not only identifies learning needs for their current role, but also for their potential future position. By understanding any skills gaps – and addressing them – we’ll go a long way in retaining our valuable Hollardite.
Learnerships, internships, graduate programmes, IT and data science programmes, and even the digital masterclasses we’ve been running for some months, offer us opportunities to develop our people. In the broader context. More universities are offering insurance-related qualifications, too.
It’s vital to deliberately focus on the development of our talent in line with our succession planning, and to drive development to meet the needs of our broker partners, through learnerships, for example. We supported sectoral programmes such as the Insurance Young Guns forum for insurance professionals under 35 – which exposed learners as early as Grade 11 and 12 to the industry – and this was also instrumental in growing human capital for the industry.
Leadership and purpose matter, too. Aside from the Hollardite culture and brand, our succession plans and how we manage talent are what set us apart. Every leader with Hollardites reporting to them is a people manager. Regular conversations with team members go a long way in keeping the most talented people on board. Mentoring and buddying with new entrants is the start of engagement.
Also, aligned to our purpose, we have a social responsibility to address unemployment in South Africa. Our initiatives include participating in learnerships in the panelbeating and broker environments.
6. How do you see technology playing a much more significant role in insurance product development and distribution in the next few years?
There is no doubt that technology is playing, and will continue to play, an increasingly important role in insurance. Everything that is insurance – from automating admin and data capture to claims and developing insurance products for the future – will be touched by technology in some way.
That leaves insurance people to do the important stuff: looking after the interests of their customers and brokers.
7. What would you point out as key areas of concern for the insurance industry for the next three to five years?
Possibly our biggest concern is climate change, and in recent years we’ve seen startling increases in natural catastrophes – not only in frequency, but in severity and location. Recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, as well as the earthquake in Gauteng, are cases in point.
COVID-19 also placed immense strain on the insurance industry worldwide. Here in South Africa, economic uncertainty and terrible political violence, along with load-shedding, have presented massive challenges.
All of these risks, combined with reticence by the reinsurance sector to cover them, leads to unpalatable choices: insurers are compelled to either drop certain forms of insurance cover, or hike premiums. In some cases it could become unaffordable.
8. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
“Forget about being a CA, young man. Go and work within the heartbeat of the economy (which is what insurance is) and make substantial, life-changing differences in people’s lives. You’ll love it!”
I wish I’d had someone advise me to consider insurance as a career. Even now, not enough young people set out to follow this fulfilling career. They have to find it, like I did.
9. What is the one book you would recommend to your audience, and why?
Take a look at Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston.
Polman, former CEO of Unilever, and Winston, a corporate sustainability expert, explain how tackling humanity’s greatest challenges – climate change and inequality – can be the foundation for a thriving business.
I’m proud to say that this book’s premise dovetails with Hollard’s business purpose, called Better Futures: everything we do, and how we do it, must create and secure better futures for more people.