“Passion”, “enthusiasm”, “innovation” and “dynamic”, are words often repeated when talking to James Peters, the new regional manager of the Western Cape at Constantia Insurance. Having worked at the largest insurance firms in the country, Peters says he joined Constantia Insurance to pursue something exciting and close to heart: meeting with brokers in person and doing business on a personal level. “Adding value,” in his words.
Peters was struck by a shared passion and enthusiasm for the insurance business when initially meeting with CEO of Constantia Insurance Volker von Widdern. “A likeminded person,” says Peters of Von Widdern. Rather than be a cog in the wheel, Von Widdern also sought to bring his big-thinker ideas to the industry through Constantia Insurance Group, according to Peters. “He left a spark,” Peters recalls of that meeting, and “everyone I’ve met from Constantia since exudes this same excitement, passion and enthusiasm”, he says.
He remembers many years ago working at a then young South African insurance company where this same innovative and flexible approach made for some of the best years of his career. “It speaks very much to my viewpoint and the culture at Constantia,” he says. “It’s a startup within an established business.”
The freedom to innovate and strategise in this role inspires him, one in which he has the freedom to help build a brand rather than be a mere gatekeeper. It’s this scope to apply his vision and affect change that drew Peters to Constantia. “I was given a blank slate and the opportunity to further build our insurance business,” he says, and “I have a rekindled passion and excitement because of this responsibility”.
The potential in the market for a personal way of insurance is massive, says Peters, and explains that it’s this personal connection that many of the larger insurers seemed to have lost in the pursuit of margins. “It’s not just about crunching numbers,” he says. “Brokers want an insurer they can talk to, someone who will add value to their business.” And it’s not a simple tick-box exercise but has to add actual value to all parties involved.
The aim is to compete in the market but stick to the Constantia ideal of “insurance made personal”. “We need to remain true to that,” he again stresses. “Brokers are crying out for an insurer who will listen and engage, to hear what they have to say, listen for what they need, and then make provision for these requirements,” says Peters. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process, he adds. “Go see a broker and talk to them about their business needs.”
During these meetings, Peters tries to establish the barriers to entry and how to overcome these. Companies nowadays have to be quicker and more efficient than their competitors, he explains. If you complicate business operations, brokers are going to move their business to someone who’s easier to deal with. “Provide value, make it easy for others to do business with you, and keep it personal,” is Peter’s recipe for success in the industry. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s effective.” It underpins everything at Constantia Insurance. “If I had to say one thing about our company, it’s this: insurance made personal,” he reiterates.
Peters says that If you can create an innovative and unique product, but bend it to within the constraints of your business, it will put you in good stead in this market that forces insurers to be innovative and flexible. “We don’t look for a reason to say no, but rather for a reason to say yes,” he muses.
And how does Constantia not fall into the trappings of growth and size which many other corporates haven’t been so fortunate to escape? “A lot of it has to do with company culture, and “culture will eat strategy for breakfast any day of the week,” says Peters. “I’ve got the opportunity to drive this culture, underpinned by our value of insurance made personal.” Don’t be arrogant, be hungry throughout, and enjoy what you’re doing, is another mantra of his. “I’m not just a cog in a distribution mechanism,” he concludes, rather passionately.