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Metropolitan sets aside R89m war chest in digital drive

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Financial services group Metropolitan has set aside roughly R89 million to accelerate its digital transformation journey, which is centred on creating artificial intelligence (AI)-based services for customers and financial advisors.

UPDATE:

Metropolitan has since publication of this story pointed out the R89 million was invested across all its digital transformation initiatives and not only in artificial intelligence. 

The insurance giant, perceived as a traditional insurer, says it has been on a journey to switch off its legacy applications and modernise the technology stack for a number of years, as digital newcomers increasingly disrupt the South African insurance market.

The company has also pumped funds into its GetUp fully-digital business, to better position itself to take on insurtech start-ups in an increasingly competitive industry.

Metropolitan is a subsidiary of JSE-listed Momentum Metropolitan, which is billed among the largest global providers of traditional insurance products, annuities and employee benefit programmes, with 90 million customers in over 60 countries globally.

Irwhan Rakiep, Metropolitan executive head of IT, tells ITWeb that over the last financial year, the company set aside a multimillion-rand IT budget to expedite its digital drive, integrate business process automation and chatbots across its customer engagement channels, and build smart apps to enable its sales and service agents to better serve its two million local customers.

Metropolitan’s digital strategy, according to Rakiep, is centred around empowering financial advisors with smart applications, which make use of AI and automation to provide a “paperless” sales and service experience for clients. This reduces the need for documentation, paper signature forms, and improves turn-around time for new business and claims with majority of claims being paid within 24 hours.

“As a company that offers a full range of traditional insurance products, digital innovation is important to the success of Metropolitan, as it allows us to better meet the increasing needs of consumers, who want more value for less money, and at their convenience,” explains Rakiep.

“Digital innovation forms the backbone for product innovation and new features make it easier to do business, and create efficiencies (cost savings) in the business, which ultimately get passed onto customers through better pricing.

“Leveraging machine learning models and AI to make data-driven decisions allows a faster turnaround time for service requests, through process redesign and robotic process automation.”

AI is increasingly revolutionising insurance services across the globe, helping create innovative products, assess risk, reduce human error in the application process and detect fraud.

In its latest earning report released in March, Momentum Metropolitan reported a 51% jump in first-half normalised headline earnings, as investment returns more than compensated for COVID-19 mortality losses.

The insurance giant pointed out it had been paying around R1 billion in life insurance claims each month, as a result of increasing COVID-19-related deaths over 19 months to December 2021, which knocked its profits.

The company says it has seen a skyrocketing number of customers submit their claims forms online from the comfort of their homes, via the chatbot.

Metropolitan first introduced its chatbot across its website and WhatsApp platforms shortly after SA’s lockdown, and has over the last two years been enhancing and improving the accuracy rate to better respond to customer queries.

“Other more recent examples of AI used by Metropolitan, which are less visible to customers, include image recognition for document processing, and machine learning models which analyse data to help better understand the client and advisor behaviour,” Rakiep adds.

Irwhan Rakiep, Metropolitan executive head of IT.
Irwhan Rakiep, Metropolitan executive head of IT.

Taking on digital natives

In 2010, Metropolitan Holdings, First Rand and Momentum Group entered into a merger agreement that would see the amalgamation of Momentum's business with Metropolitan, to create Momentum Metropolitan, with FirstRand as the largest shareholder.

As the pace of insurance radically changes in Africa, the continent has seen a rise in digital native insurtech firms that have played an increasing role in helping to overcome the historically low penetration rates of insurance products on the continent.

To better position to compete with the insurtech players, Metropolitan introduced its GetUp digital business in 2019, as a non-intermediated insurance business, to cater for more digitally native and tech-savvy clients who are more comfortable with creating their own financial plan and buying products online.

The pandemic accelerated the demand for GetUp, which has seen an escalation of customers who have used the platform to purchase products, notes Rakiep.

“GetUp was created from a blank page and within four months we were doing (rudimentary) business. We have since grown our capabilities to become a full value chain digital insurer. In just over two years, we have engaged with over 3.5 million people via our own and partnered digital channels. Over 30 000 of these customers have opted into our products.”

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