by: Paige Robertson and Joanne Marshall
Date: Dec 6, 2018
At RMI’s November Leading Insights seminar, Willem Roos shared his views on some of the aspects that he believes make up a sound and enduring corporate culture.
Willem Roos started OUTsurance, one of South Africa’s first direct short-term insurers, along with Howard Aron and René Otto in 1998. Having noticed a gap in the market while working at traditional insurer Aegis, the trio secured funding for their direct-to-consumer concept from the Rand Merchant Bank Holdings (RMH) group, thanks largely to the interest shown by Laurie Dippenaar, one of the group’s founders.
This financial backing and display of trust in their business plan was what enabled Roos, Aron and Otto to set up what has become a highly disruptive force in the insurance industry. However, Roos insists that it was not the most significant outcome of their relationship with RMH.
“The most important contribution RMH made to our business was the effect it had on our culture”, he said. “While there is no such thing as a right or wrong culture, there are very few successful businesses that don’t have a unique or strong culture”.
Roos laid out eight of the most impactful cultural principles that OUTsurance inherited from RMH.
Learning from mistakes
Roos also recounted some of the key lessons learned from the mistakes they made along the way.
About six months after OUTsurance was started, it was decided that the firm would allow brokers to sell its products, which was not part of the original plan at all; after all, the business model was built on a direct-to-the-consumer insurance offering.
“All of the founding principles almost went out the window when we did this”, he did. “We had far higher loss ratios (the most important measure in an insurance company) than we had budgeted for. We just made a fundamental mistake”.
Working with the “what-must-happens”
It was a costly mistake and threatened the viability of the whole business. Keeping a tight rein on the everyday “what-must-happens” was instrumental in getting them back on track.
“We broke down what needed to happen on a daily basis for OUTsurance to survive. We looked at a whole host of ratios from the number of policies that needed to be sold to marketing, leads and sales targets”, he said.
Fortunately the firm recovered well and Roos stressed the importance of never losing sight of your initial intentions.
The pitfalls of complacency
Becoming complacent with their success was another error he believes the firm made.
“The biggest mistake we made was getting comfortable with our technology, systems and processes because they were dramatically better than the competition”, he said. “We stopped pushing the boundaries for a while. This was about six or seven years ago”.
The danger is that then other firms start catching up and eroding your competitive advantage. It can take a while to reverse the situation. Roos said it took OUTsurance two to three years to overcome the challenges posed by this complacency.
No substitute for culture
It clearly hasn’t been plain sailing all the time, but Roos and his team have built what has become one of South Africa’s most recognisable brands. While there was some good fortune, a pioneering business model and an innovative product offering involved, there can be no doubt that their commitment to maintaining the right culture has played a major role in their success. Incorporating his words of wisdom will go a long way to helping you attract and retain the talent you need to give your business the best chance of success.
About the Author
Head of Marketing, RMI Investment Managers
Paige is an experienced marketing professional with a passion for people and corporate culture. She has a demonstrated history of working in the financial services industry and before joining the RMI group in October 2015, held senior positions in both business development and client service for two of South Africa’s top digital advertising agencies.