CEO Interview: Becoming Bidvest Life

By Timothy Rangongo
Editor at Money Marketing SA

By Timothy Rangongo, Editor: MoneyMarketing

Lulu Rasebotsa, CEO of Bidvest Life

In 1995, FMI Insurance was born as one of the first insurers in South Africa to protect the income of the self-employed, non-professionals and business owners. In 2016, the business was acquired by the Bidvest Group and continued to trade under the Bidvest Life license, although the trading name remained FMI up until recently.

When Lulu Rasebotsa, the CEO of Bidvest Life, was brought into the business in 2021, she says conversations regarding the rebranding of FMI Insurance to Bidvest Life were already ongoing and made sense to her.

“It made sense for me that we go with the brand name that is already recognisable. For instance, I had to google who FMI was when I got the call for the job — and I’d been in the insurance industry for quite a while (based in Botswana),” she says.

Rasebotsa admits that “though FMI had been around for 27 years, we acknowledge that we were still not a recognisable brand.” Piggybacking off of Bidvest’s brand would thus give the insurer more leverage to become what they intend to become, which is more of a consumer brand now.

Keeping the income protection DNA

Bidvest Life is still very much a life insurer that exists to protect the salaries of all working South Africans from the risk of injury, illness or death through a combination of income protection, disability, critical illness and life cover options. 

The insurer still emphasises that one should protect their income before anything else and promise to show up for their family or business by continuing to pay monthly incomes or once-off lump sums when life’s mishaps occur.

“We believe in income protection and its importance. Income protection is what we continue to push,” reiterates Rasebotsa.

In a bid to become a consumer brand, Rasebotsa tells MoneyMarketing that there are future product developments in the pipeline to unlock new markets, but most importantly, “how do we design our products without losing the income protection market that we hold?”

“We were one of the pioneers of the income protection cover 27 years ago. We don’t want to lose that. It will continue to remain our core focus.”

Lulu Rasebotsa, CEO of Bidvest Life

Relationship with independent financial advisors

The FMI’s relationship with Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs) is one that also dates back 27 years, and with the rebrand, it is interesting what shape or form the pre-existing relationship will take going forward under Bidvest Life.

“The relationship continues. It is just a name change,” says Rasebotsa. 

“The very name change will now empower our IFAs to go out with a recognisable brand. So, it also works to their advantage.” She says advisors have previously said to the business that when they sell FMI products, it is always a double-sell where they first need to explain who FMI is before getting to discharge the financial advice.

Core to the business, Rasebotsa says Bidvest Life will remain committed to supporting IFAs and this channel because it is essentially “our bread and butter; we cannot leave them out in the lurch and have no intentions of ever doing so. Financial advisors will always be required by a certain type of customer.”

Integration within the Bidvest Group

The Bidvest Group already comprises holdings in financial services such as Bidvest Bank and Bidvest Insurance. Asked if there are any ambitions in terms of strategy on ever taking on the likes of Discovery by offering an integration of the various types of financial services all under one house, Rasebotsa tells MoneyMarketing this is also well underway.

“The Bidvest Group already comprises a bank and other financial service entities. We intend to leverage off of these relationships so that we can ultimately, for some customers, become your one-stop-shop. This will also enable us to guard against revenue leakage from the Group,” she explains.

Bidvest Financial Services CEO, Hannah Sadiki, confirmed that the new brand would form part of a broader Bidvest offering that would offer consumers a wide range of financial services under one umbrella from banking, short-term insurance, life insurance and so much more.

Hannah Sadiki, CEO of Bidvest Financial Services

“Bidvest is renowned for its model of acquiring businesses that will benefit from the synergies and strength of the Group to enable growth and ultimately deliver a greater return on investment. By investing in local businesses, such as Bidvest Life, we aim to turn ordinary companies into extraordinary performers, delivering strong and consistent shareholder returns in the process,” says Sadiki.

Timeframe-wise, Rasebotsa says that we can expect to see the first stages of such an integration in the next 18-months, adding, “we [Bidvest Life] should have a solid relationship with other operating entities” within the Group.

Moving forward and the vision for Bidvest Life

Bidvest Life is essentially on a path to becoming a fully-fledged life insurer. “When you look at our age, we have been around for 27 years. The likes of your Liberty have been around for about 60 years plus. There is no way that we are going to try and take them on,” says Rasebotsa. 

She explains that it is about the business growing at a rate that the shareholders feel comfortable with. “So, we are chasing our own targets. And because we are still very agile, I think that we can do much more.”

Asked about the vision for the newly rebranded insurer, she says that for her, being a black woman in South Africa is about “making sure that we provide access to financial services to those who have never had the opportunity.”

Bidvest Life has acknowledged that they have been a single distributor of a single product and have therefore not catered for the larger demographics of the South African population. 

“There are some spaces where one might think the market is saturated, but in fact, people are being employed every day. There are always new opportunities coming through in terms of presenting to potential customers. Our focus is to play in the South African market, to service customers we previously didn’t,” says Rasebotsa.

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