Championing success in Kenya's tough insurance industry

In Summary

•Apollo Investments’ group chief executive Ashok Shah has been in the insurance business for over 40 years. 

Apollo Investment chief executive Ashok Shah with Kenya Revenue Authority commissioner general John Njiraini /
Apollo Investment chief executive Ashok Shah with Kenya Revenue Authority commissioner general John Njiraini /
Image: FILE

An early riser, Ashok Shah’s biological alarm clock goes of at 530am. With days packed back to back with meetings, Apollo Investements’ group chief executive officer ensures he gets his work out at the crack of dawn, be it a long walk or a jog, to ensure maximum productivity throughout the day.

“I then enjoy a leisurely breakfast while going through the business and international pages of the dailies and get to work to start the day,” he tells the Star.

Having worked in the insurance industry for over 40 years, Ashok believes there is a lot that needs to be done to realize the full potential of the underwriting industry.


APA Insurance has experienced substantial growth under your watch, what do you attribute your success to? 

This is an interesting question. At APA Apollo, we believe that beside our reputation and strong relationships, our innovative products and ability to provide solutions for even the remotest risk is our biggest strength. We have worked consistently over the years to improve the quality of our customer experience through our products and services and this has in turn grown our customer loyalty contributing to our success. Personally, I believe that before implementing a great idea you need a good team behind you. However exciting or achievable an idea seems, it’s nothing if it is not executed well. It is therefore important that I continuously inspire, mentor and motivate my team to align with the overall company’s vision.


What has been the most challenging area in your leadership? 

Reading is a passion of mine. I especially enjoy reading books, but spend more time reading business and management articles and listening to business podcasts. Jack Welch, one of the leading business writers once said – “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

So I constantly challenge myself to learn more, so I can do more to enthuse and help others.


We are living in the age of disruption, however, the Insurance Sector is yet to take up the innovation, what do you think could be the problem? 

The insurance world doesn’t have a reputation for setting the world on fire in terms of innovation and sometimes an innovation does not work as expected. The question then becomes whether it is worth the risk. Most insurance executives recognize the value of innovation, but few would be brave enough to boast of clearly understanding the process of implementing innovation in our business model, and even fewer of successfully integrating continuous cycles of innovation in their own companies. That is not necessarily a mark of failure, but recognition of reality. A commitment to innovation represents a gamble as to whether the innovation, if successful, will adversely affect the existing business or represent a substantial increase or improvement in the business. But innovate we must because there is significant opportunity to capture value through digitizing our processes and products.


Where do you see the insurance industry's biggest opportunities in digital? 

Insurance companies that leverage some of the technological advances to create bespoke products for their customers will continue to thrive in this trendy industry while those that refuse to change with times will play catch up. Technology has unearthed numerous opportunities that are not only exciting to consumers but also convenient as far as adoption and servicing is concerned.

Data technology has in the recent past transformed risk, which is the primary element of the insurance business model. Technology has changed the way data is created, captured, analyzed and stored. Today, insurance firms have numerous sources from where they can collect data and help create important and personalized products for clients hence helping them in the management of risk.


Do you see changes in the broker's role in the value chain that's being disrupted by digital?  

A lot of insurance is sold through intermediation. With expansive networks and expertise, brokers have long been an integral part of the risk selection process, providing value and advice to their clients. They are agents of their clients and they have good knowledge of their clients’ needs. With this knowledge they will know the areas of the client’s portfolio that needs specific attention. They will negotiate terms and conditions with the insurer on behalf of the clients and agree the premiums and excesses to be charged.

In many cases the digital revolution is changing the game, especially in areas of personal covers where insurer can provide more cost-efficient platforms of their own from which to select and underwrite risk. For brokers, harnessing technology will be key to being able to keep value to the clients while reducing costs. They should be leading the insurtech wave, as key holders to risk and if they can combine this access to the market with more efficient digital solutions, they could help the market to embrace efficiency, and maintain their position as being able to provide clients with the best market value and returns for their services.


What are the latest Insurance Trends in the region?

Escalating urbanisation, a rising middle class and a growing younger population create significant opportunities for insurers to enter this largely untapped market. The potential for doing business in is huge, and insurance companies are coming up with innovative and efficient ways to meet the need and expectations of this market.

A PWC report on the African insurance industry estimates that the population on the continent will grow by 114.4% by 2050 to about two-billion people. In addition, because the population of Africa is the youngest in the world with an average age of just 19.7 years in 2010, there will be a large working-age population. 

This is good news for our industry because a younger population is linked to GDP growth which in turn makes for a wealthier population and an increase in insurable lives and assets.

The younger population is more tech-savvy who are connected 24/7 and have expectations of customised solutions and an entirely virtual, paperless relationship with their insurer.


Where do you see the insurance industry in Kenya in the next three years? 

Real-time collection of data is set to provide insight into customer behaviour which guides product development. Analytics is also expected to provide data that helps spot trends, predict outcomes for underwriting and pricing decisions that best fit the risk profile of each customer. We expect to see more innovative solutions from insurance companies informed by customer demands for solutions which reflect them and will adapt to their changing circumstances.

Organisations are also increasingly emphasising on a customer-centric culture with the aim of improving the bottom line. To improve communication with customers and become more cost-effective, there is need for retailers to shift distribution channels with the ultimate goal of giving customers a more personalised experience.


What book are you currently reading? 

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The author’s arguments on the internet’s impact on our brains, our lives, and our communities are a worthy of reflection, which is something we all could use a little more of in this age


What's the one task you engage with most in a day? 

Meetings. My calendar is full of them! Unfortunately, these are the bane of most CEO’s working life. We need to reduce them and concentrate more on looking at how we can provide better innovative solutions for the needs of the consumers, especially the masses in Kenya and East Africa!


How do you simplify everything with such a busy schedule?

I actively, do not use any devices for the first hour of the day. Sunday’s become an important day for recreation. It is the day I log off from my electronics and most work-related tasks. On this day I bond with nature, usually a walk in Karura or some other nature walk. I spend time with my family and generally do something just for myself. I find that this helps me reset my mind ready for the oncoming week.