BrightRock celebrates 10 years in the life insurance business

Needs-matched insurer’s achievements are an entrepreneurial success story

31 May 2021, Sandton – Needs-matched life insurer, BrightRock, celebrates its tenth anniversary today. Founded in 2011, BrightRock has stayed true to its roots of living and loving change over the past decade. In true entrepreneurial fashion, the company started around a dining room table and has received recognition from the industry and consumers alike for its approach to changing the way financial services products work to better meet people’s needs.

From those humble beginnings, BrightRock is an entrepreneurial success story. From a zero-base start-up, the needs-matched life insurer has grown rapidly into a market leader. It is South Africa’s fastest-growing life insurer and the third-largest life insurer in its market segment, having paid out over R2.4 billion in claims and covering 2.8 million lives across the individual risk, group risk and funeral assistance markets.

Reflecting on the past decade, Schalk Malan, BrightRock CEO, who co-founded the business along with colleagues Sean Hanlon and Suzanne Stevens, says they believe the needs-matched life insurer’s success can be attributed to a few factors: “Firstly, we got the right people together. Each of us has very diverse skill sets and, although we are not afraid to challenge one another, each person is respected for their expertise in his or her chosen field, bringing something unique to the table.”

Another factor in BrightRock’s success, explains Malan, was not playing on the same playing field as their competitors. They created a playing field with new rules by differentiating what they did in every facet of their business – products, systems and servicing, sales and distribution, and marketing. Malan, a qualified actuary, is the main architect behind the BrightRock product, while Hanlon has spearheaded its distribution strategies, and Stevens its marketing strategies and brand. “For the past 10 years, the ability to see the opportunity inherent in all change by applying our needs-matched approach to everything we do, has allowed BrightRock to create a leading South African financial services business that is challenging and changing the industry,” says Malan.

A central theme in BrightRock’s story is its ‘love change’ philosophy – the belief that all change brings with it the opportunity, and that anyone is capable of learning to embrace change. This belief is supported by behavioural science and the concept of ‘Positive Deviance’. Behavioural scientists posit that there are specific, positive behaviours that set apart the individuals who are able to succeed when faced with similar challenges where their peers tend to fail. This ‘Positive Deviance’ is the capacity for people to adapt to their situation and come up with better solutions and then immediately taking action to implement those solutions. It requires openness, and optimism of behaviour, and the ability to taken proactive steps first rather than thought – in essence, it is a mindset of ‘acting’ one’s way into a new way of thinking, rather than thinking your way into a new way of acting.

This adaptable mindset is one that Malan and his co-founders believe has helped BrightRock grow and succeed in South Africa’s complex and competitive life insurance market. In particular, he emphasises the tenacity that is necessary to turn a start-up business into a going concern.

“When asked what advice I have for entrepreneurs, my answer is simple: Never, ever give up. In the beginning, it is hard because many people doubt you, telling you that you’ve no chance to succeed in taking on the established players in the market. You’re constantly watching the cash flow and new business numbers and need to recruit and motivate people based on a promise of what the business will become. There will be many sleepless nights and anxious early mornings, but it helps to have colleagues you can share the journey with – keep positive, keep making a new plan when there are curve balls, drive through walls, and never give up.”

Today, BrightRock is the fastest-growing insurer in its market segment, providing cover that is both relevant and appropriate to each and every individual client. Industry statistics indicate that BrightRock was the only insurer in its sector to grow its new business premium during the lockdown period. In 2020, BrightRock saw a 10,8% increase in new business sales. This is the greatest overall increase in new business relative to other providers in that segment, with the market declining by 16.5% on average over the same period.

According to Malan, BrightRock is poised to continue growing and innovating, to continue finding better ways to meet clients’ financial needs throughout their lives and to continue changing the industry in the process.

“We look forward to what the next 10 years will bring,” he concludes.

Ten memorable milestones for the needs-matched insurer

Here are just 10 of the many memorable milestones BrightRock has reached over the past 10 years.

  1. Launching the world’s first-ever needs-matched life insurance in 2012 – After starting the business in 2011, in April 2012, BrightRock launched its needs-matched life insurance product to Independent Financial Advisers. Schalk Malan received the Cover Excellence Award for product innovation in 2013 as the main architect of BrightRock’s needs-matched product design. BrightRock has featured at industry conferences in Germany, Australia, Singapore, and the USA.
  2. Helping people navigate change in their lives – In February 2014, BrightRock launched The Change Exchange, a digital platform that aims to support consumers in making important life decisions. Consumers can use it to share their thoughts and get information and support as they navigate through life’s major ‘Change Moments’: Starting a family, Tying the knot, Making a home, and landing a job.
  3. Diversifying our product offering into funeral parlours – In 2015, BrightRock diversified its offering by providing funeral parlours with a comprehensive solution for their insurance administration, underwriting and compliance needs. Support services included everything from compliant documentation and record-keeping to support for funeral parlours’ clients when they claimed against their funeral cover.
  4. Exceeding the R100 billion cover mark – BrightRock’s cover in force exceeded the R100 billion mark in late 2015. This came at a time when the South African insurance industry had remained stagnant, while BrightRock was seeing an 89% increase in year-on-year gross premiums billed. Today BrightRock’s cover in force exceeds R350bn.
  5. Playing the bounce – In 2016, BrightRock announced its sponsorship of the DHL Stormers and DHL Western Province. December 2017 marked the inaugural BrightRock Players Choice Awards – the only South African rugby awards for professional rugby players by professional rugby players. And in 2021, BrightRock announced our associate sponsorship of the Vodacom Bulls.
  6. Expanding horizons with Sanlam – In September 2017 Sanlam acquired a majority stake in BrightRock, which provided a stronger platform for growth and expansion. Under the agreement, Sanlam and BrightRock continue to function as independent businesses, retaining their own brands, life insurance licences and management teams.
  7. Changing the group risk market – In May 2018, BrightRock brought further change to the life insurance industry with the introduction of a group risk product that could provide schemes with up to 40% more cover for the same premium. In contrast to traditional group risk products, BrightRock’s group risk product provided greater certainty and flexibility, now and in the future. It also better suited the demands of a changing workforce.
  8. Paying out R1 billion in claims – In July 2019 BrightRock announced that it had reached the R1 billion mark in claims paid, covering more than two million lives across its individual life, life assistance and group risk offerings. At the time, SwissRe placed BrightRock among the top four insurers in South Africa in its market segment, with the majority of lump-sum disability business sold by independent advisers in the large premium market category placed with BrightRock. Today BrightRock has paid out more than R2.4 billion in claims since its inception.
  9. Enhancing temporary expenses cover – In October 2019, BrightRock added enhancements to its temporary expenses cover products. These included the addition of new conditions to its list of clinical conditions, increased claims certainty for clients in specific occupations, and claim-stage choice between a lump-sum or a recurring pay-out – a market first.
  10. Achieving a 14.3% market share during COVID-19 – 2020 was a tough year for the nation, and the world at large, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While the insurance industry largely remained resilient, fewer risk policies were sold, and there were increased claims and lapse rates. However, BrightRock proved resilient during these testing times and posted positive growth, with a market share of 14.3% (based on annual premium income), and a 10.8% increase in new business sales. This was the greatest overall increase in new business relative to other providers in that segment, with the market declining by 16.5% on average over the same period.
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