Time to say goodbye – Treating Employees Fairly

You know how to recruit good people right? But do you know how to say goodbye to them?

I read an article recently about changes in the employment environment over the past 10 years. The author wrote that he’d attended a corporate presentation and the CEO was talking about how he’d been with the company for 25 years. Two younger men in front looked at each other and commented about how awful that must’ve been. Practically a life sentence.

The message in the article was clear;  millennials (age 20 to 30 aka Generation Y) probably won’t stick around in a job for as long  as their Generation X predecessors, and a business can only expect to keep top performers for as long as they feel they are being challenged and are making a difference in the world. Money is a factor in making any job more attractive to any age group but there is a growing body of articles and studies to suggest that to the younger generation in particular, remuneration is a bit further down the list than it may have been for their parents.

We must accept that our rising stars in business are probably only going to be with us for 3-5 years even if they’re presented with growth opportunities and told how much the company values them.  A recent report in Fast Company found that 60% of millennials who leave their jobs in less than 3 years, do so because of a poor cultural fit. It is also true that this group of employees place a lot more stock in being treated like valued individuals and not just heads in a corporate office plan.

As employers perhaps we should be acknowledging that this new relationship could be relatively short term, certainly by prior standards. By 2020 this group will make up half of the workforce in most countries. If we’re going to find ourselves in a new era of shorter term engagements, a more transient workplace perhaps, then businesses should prepare for how they conduct themselves when departure becomes imminent. Not only does every business require a strategy for attracting talent but it should also have a clear idea as to how it says goodbye to its good people.

You may ask why? Why should an employer care how an employee feels after they log off the network for the last time?

There are a number of reasons why this matters in the 21st century. One should remember that if a good employee moves on, then its the right thing to do to send them off with a blessing. When we talk about sending them off with a blessing that includes the way they are discussed internally after the move. Poor leaders, and I’ve witnessed this myself, do not support employees moving on and the worst kind will often set about trying to sully the reputation of the soon to be former-employee, during the notice period and in fact long after their departure from the business. This actually reveals more about everything that’s wrong with the business rather than any previously unnoticed shortcomings that the former employee may have. This also guarantees that re-employment in the same business will never happen in future.

Don’t get me wrong, not every employee is a loss to the business but when a high performer moves on, any attempt to chip away at their reputation will only be perceived as “sour grapes” by the remaining employees. They may very well be left wondering if its worthwhile giving their own best efforts, if they too may be the subject of such treatment in future. I know some organizations where merely mentioning the name of the dearly departed employee is frowned upon, almost as if the moniker itself conjures up the Voldemort of the office.

Its natural for remaining employees to engage in a bit of blame shifting. They may genuinely be frustrated with the additional workload that could come their way or perhaps the training burden that will inevitably be foisted upon them when the replacement joins. Junior staff and other former colleagues will of course largely take their lead from the seniors in the team and it would be massively inappropriate and unprofessional to see character assassination from the CEO or other high ranking employees.

Hard work and committment in the preceding years can’t and shouldn’t be erased as a method of dealing with the exit. In my own experience true leaders do not take the loss of a once-loyal employee personally. It’s not an affront that an ambitious employee seeks greener pastures or more challenging terrain. Even the case of employees joining the opposition it is actually a tremendous compliment to the business when the organization is viewed by competitors as a fundamentally sound training ground.

The best attitude any business can have is to let good workers go with best wishes and the hope that they’ll continue to be ambassadors of the brand long after they leave, even if they’re joining a competitor. Remember that as an employer you may never get the good ones back again but the ones that have left may end up sitting next to your next star performer in their new office environments. A business reputation isn’t just about earning the respect of a customer. It’s also about attracting talented stars of the future.

Death by rumour

Social media exposes a lot of employers. Millennials in particular know how to research the online profile of a business before they join. Most prospective employees will engage with others who may have worked at the business before. The modern day job seeker may not only provide references to the prospective employer but may in fact do their own research by communicating with former employees. Simply typing the name of the business into the LinkedIn platform produces a goldmine of reference points, both past and present. Type in the name of your company and you’ll be presented with a long list that includes the staff who’ve moved on.

Managers with a modicum of emotional intelligence shouldn’t need to be told about this. Its about doing the next right thing and encouraging people to grow, even if you aren’t around to enjoy the future benefits of their work.

Remember that if you continuously destroy the fruits of a great worker’s labour, you will eventually land up with way-more compost than fruit.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.



(watch the Apple video below which appeared in the original article by Zen Workplace)

A Question of Trust

Title image from Risk SA article
Title image from Risk SA article

A recent article depicting insurance as one of the least trusted industries prompted me to write an article for Risk SA in the July 2014 issue. In the event that you think it’s work circulating there is a link to that PDF version at the bottom of the page.

The article on the most (and least) trusted professions in South Africa was originally written by a fellow called Quinton Bronkhorst for Business Tech. I can only assume he had to wade through tons of mind-numbing figures before getting to the table below, which I think you’ll agree is quite distressing if you’re in journalism, law enforcement, insurance or politics.



The original report was produced by global market research company, GFK. I always take these global studies with a pinch of salt because the samples used to derive the information are often relatively small, particularly once you drill down into the South African specifics. In this particular instance, 28 000 people were interviewed around the world. The number included 1194 South African respondents.

The numbers in the table indicate that of the total number of people interviewed, a specific percentage trusts the specific profession. This means effectively that out of 1194 South Africans, 95 per cent said they trust doctors compared to only 43 per cent who trust politicians. It seems likely that 43 per cent of the respondents were politicians. Incidentally, if one benchmarks SA against other countries – politicians, on average, have a trust level of 31 per cent. We are more trusting of our elected officials. I guess that is borne out of our recent election results where a slew of corruption charges against some individuals appear to be less concerning to the populace than the dress code in parliament.

Also worth noting is that 5% of the respondents don’t trust anyone.

As an insurance professional, I took serious umbrage to the notion that we only scored 57%, especially when one looks at the overall context, even cab drivers, whom I assume are actually mini-bus taxi drivers, scored higher than the insurance industry. For goodness sake, even South African policemen fared better than insurance agents. .

 It would be far too easy for us to dismiss the insurance numbers by simply sticking the whole industry into the grudge purchase box. However, I don’t believe the nature of the product or service has anything to do with trust. In fact, if trust were inextricably linked to the nature of the service, even doctors would find their score slipping to the bottom of the table. Not too many people enjoy a visit to the doctor, unless you are a hypochondriac or a medical sales rep.

If the negative perception is not related to the nature of the service then perhaps it is related to the dreaded claims rejection? Shortly after I read the Trusted Professions report, I noted that the Ombud for the short-term insurance industry had also published some figures. The Ombud is a free resource for consumers who feel their claims have been unfairly rejected. In 2013, he received just under 10,000 complaints. This is a pretty big number but the reality is that out of almost 2.7m claims, less than 0.4% resulted in a dispute with the consumer.

So if the grudge purchase factor and claims payments are not the cause of our risky reputation, what remains?

Some years ago, I was privileged to attend a presentation delivered by market leader, Peter Todd. In his presentation he spoke of insurance professionals having a noble purpose. The word noble or nobility, generally conjures up all sorts of regal, even saintly imagery. This struck me as strange as many of the professionals I had worked with in the industry over the years knew the risk transfer business inside out, but didn’t exactly fit the knightly bill.

Knights of the Rating Table

Todd’s reference to our noble purpose had quite an impact on me. Attention had been thrown on the fact that much of the negative perception in our industry is self-perpetuating, partly through the way some insurers market their services but largely due to the way the individuals in the industry carry the message.

There isn’t a great deal we can do to halt the commoditisation of insurance products and I guess to some extent, buying insurance will always largely be about the premium. I do however believe there is something we can do about the way we carry our noble purpose message every day.

 I’ve worked in a big insurance company, a few global reinsurance companies, a couple of Underwriting Agencies and more recently, in a local brokerage, and I noted a few things that many of these firms had in common:

  • Most of the older staff had not made a conscious choice to be in insurance. They had fallen into the industry. Many would even joke that they’d been sentenced to life but commuted to short-term.
  • Often these businesses struggled to attract and retain younger talent. Graduates with some insurance experience were in high demand due to their scarcity. Many actually left the industry after gaining some work experience.
  • Generally, a high percentage of the staff (particularly in the bigger companies) had a negative perception of insurance themselves. It was not uncommon for brokers to blame insurers in front of clients when a claims problem arose and it was not unusual for insurers to dismiss brokers as perpetual moaners when policy issues arose.

The talk made me think about how I perceive the industry that I’ve earned a good living out of over the past 23 years. It also made me think of the enormous impact the industry had on my kidneys and liver for the first 10 years, but that is a bleary-eyed, dialysis infused story for another time.

I was transported back in time to the moment I started in insurance. I recalled being almost immediately embarrassed by my chosen profession. I discovered in my early 20’s, at a very impressionable age for a young underwriter, that insurance was not as sexy as depicted in the brochure. In fact I remember concocting a joke that elicited much mirth at insurance functions. I’d introduce myself as an underwriter, then I would quickly qualify that an underwriter was like an undertaker. The only difference being that an undertaker had clients that were livelier. This joke, it transpired, was not very funny to non-insurance people, or to undertakers. My colleague, Ed Jordan recently shared a story with me that I believe to be more apt. Upon arrival at a retirement home to deliver a load of baked goods (a charitable initiative of SHAs), he was confronted by an old fellow who commented on the use of the word underwriter on the side of our team van. “Is that like an undertaker?” muttered the old boy. “Similar, but we take care of you whilst you’re alive” responded Ed.

Unfortunately it would appear that this vocational embarrassment is not unique, and still exists in today’s insurance industry. Some would argue that the sector is filled with brilliant products that no one really wants to buy, sold by people that don’t really want to sell them. Not only a grudge purchase but a grudge sale too. Somewhat of a miracle then, that the combined short and long-term industries produce almost 20% of the country’s GDP and employ over 100,000 people.

The 2013 KPMG report draws attention to how the insurance industry is trying to clean up its image. R2.1 bn in fire and hail claims were paid in the last quarter of 2012 alone. Without that valuable service many people would have lost their homes, cars and even their jobs. If one adds to that the number of families that benefited from life policies (R6.8 bn across the whole year) it becomes apparent that society would actually grind to a screeching halt without the risk transfer industry.

The KPMG report is extremely comprehensive but I very much doubt that the majority of people employed in the insurance industry even know of its existence, let alone read it. So if we as an industry don’t know about the impact of our noble purpose, how can we expect this from the begrudged buyers?

A political party recently used the phrase ‘A good story to tell’ in its 2014 election campaign. The insurance industry is filled with ‘great stories to tell’ but if we don’t tell them no one else will. We will be doomed to hover around the bottom of the Trusted Professions list, saved only from last place in morbid hope that our politicians will continue to disappoint the electorate.

I’m the Liability Guy.


SA’s Trusted Professions

Ombudsmans report

KPMG Insurance Report  

Risk SA Article

Of Futtocks and Baggywrinkles – The Risk(SA)y Business of Sailing

Last weekend I had the dubious honour of hanging out with drunken sailors and whores. Not really. I was actually at the RiskSA inaugural regatta. So there weren’t any drunken sailors. I mean no disrespect. I read once that insurance is the second oldest profession in the world although it does bear a striking resemblance to the first. Since I’ve become a broker, I can attest to that.

The regatta was quite something. A first for the industry. Risk SA went all out. For those of you that don’t know, “Risk SA” is a premium insurance magazine and not an instruction manual for misguided presidents. Anyway, the guys from Risk SA really splashed out on a well organized event. They spared no expense in arranging the yachts, crews, venues and first class catering. In fact they spent so much on putting the event together they had no cash left for a decent Master of Ceremonies. So they asked me, The Liability Guy.

We all work in a fast paced, highly demanding industry so I thought the idea of a Regatta was a really good one. It was a really awesome opportunity for everyone to relax, clear their minds (something that some folk found very easy to do). It really was a time to forget about FAIS and FICA, to forget about rating increases (something brokers are naturally good at), to forget about broker fees (something underwriters are even better at) and to take part in the event of a lifetime.

When Andy and Mike mentioned the regatta to me almost a year before the event I really doubted they’d pull it off. Getting insurers, brokers and service providers in the industry to cough up a small fortune to charter a flotilla of yachts (hope you enjoy my clever use of maritime lingo from this point on) would be no mean feat. But then again, these are the same guys that made a financial services magazine look like an issue of Penthouse. In fact I’d been fooled into reading one of the earlier issues, thinking I’d spot a hottie within its glossy pages. Not to harp on the fact but I did actually spot the one I now live with.

So last Friday night, the who’s who of the insurance industry descended upon the Royal Cape Yacht Club to prepare for battle on the open water. If a tsunami had arrived simultaneously, I have no doubt the impact on the industry would’ve been cataclysmic. Ok maybe not, but at the very least there’d be an increase in motor rates. Whenever anything happens there’s an increase in motor rates.

I’m told Risk SA had also contemplated inviting the FSB to take part in the event but decided against it after the regulator suggested a bout of examinations to ensure crew members were fit and proper. An impossibility. They also insisted that the skippers communicate in plain language, again an impossibility. Whatever happened to TCF? That’s Treating Crew Fairly.


The eager mariners on the first night were reminded that there is a rich historical connection between insurance and the ocean. This dates back to mid 17th century England in Edward Lloyd’s coffee shop. I can believe this because when I really need a good cup of coffee, I too would travel thousands of miles for my fix. Ok maybe 10 miles.

The event on the Saturday was hosted in near perfect weather. I was quite relieved about this because the thought of explaining to one more person why the fucking weather in Cape Town is “soooooooooooooooo bad”, as one individual put it, was giving me a serious bout of the sea-voms.

Out on the water that day, over 300 sailors took to the oceans. More seamen than Moby’s Dick. The Silver Falcons also did a flyover and some aerobatics. Perhaps as a tip for next year, it’d be a good idea to warn the residents of the V&A of this impending display. One old guy I work with said he saw the boats on the water and the planes flying in and thought the Malawians may have been meting out a version of Pearl Harbour as payback for a recent JayZee’ism.

The race itself did not go off without incident. One of the yachts had to turn back after it suffered some sail damage. Two other vessels collided. I understand there are some rules of sailing to avoid collision that are very simple. For the uninformed reader, I dug this up on Wikipedia:

There are four main right of way rules: [Part 2, Section A]
1. Boats on a port tack shall keep clear of boats on starboard tack (Rule 10).
2. When boats are on the same tack and overlapped, the boat to windward (the boat closest to the wind) shall keep clear of a leeward boat (Rule 11).
3. When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, the boat that is astern shall keep clear of the boat ahead. (Rule 12).
4. When a boat is tacking (changing tack) it shall keep clear of boats that are not tacking (Rule 13).

Well that’s clear then…. perhaps penned by the same author as the Binder Regulations?

One of the VIP boats also apparently sailed into the Cape’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. The vessel and all who sailed upon her disappeared momentarily. Fortunately the crew all magically reappeared at Ferryman’s and caught a cab back to the YachtClub. The mysterious area is now known as “Die Dronkie Drie Hoek”

And of course who could forget the misfortune that befell the vessel “Mount Gay” who almost lost a crew member to Davy Jones’ Locker (that’s ocean-speak for drowning). One of my former colleagues has always had a penchant for going overboard but this time he took it too far. Perhaps more amazing still was the fact that the crew of the yacht still emerged as victors of the event, with all souls safely back on board.

sailing geoff

Congratulations must again go to all who took part in the Risk SA Regatta, particularly to the organizers, my former colleagues at Camargue who won the competition, and all the amazing businesses that sponsored the event of the year. It was a real pleasure being a part of it.

By the way, for those of you that only read this because of a dirty sounding title, a Futtock is a curved wooden piece of a ship’s frame and a Baggywrinkle is a soft covering for a cable on a ship.

I’m The Liability Guy.