As the largest mutual assurance society in the southern hemisphere, AVBOB has remained true to its core belief as expressed by its founder HH van Rooijen, a partially blind schoolmaster in the midst of the devastating Spanish Flu in 1918: each human being is entitled to a dignified funeral, at an affordable price.
According to AVBOB’s Commercial Director, Deno Pillay, this has remained core to everything the funeral service and insurance group undertakes and aspires to. “That motto that HH van Rooijen believed in, serving people and putting people’s needs first, irrespective of who the person is and where they come from, has been at the forefront of everything we do.”
Featuring on Besigheid wat saak maak (Business that matters), the new TV business-breakfast show on VIA (DStv channel 147) this past Saturday, Pillay says that for all practical purposes the AVBOB of today still is the same entity that inspired its birth more than 100 years ago. “AVBOB is a true mutual society, which means that it is owned by its members, its policyholders. So, we don’t have shareholders. All the profits the group generates are distributed to our members in the form of special bonuses, enhanced funeral benefits such as a FREE* basic funeral, R2 500 cash up front, etc.”
In contrast with companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) that have to give account to a small group of investors (shareholders), AVBOB has to account to a large group of people, in fact more than 2.1 million policyholders/members that cover 6.5 million lives – which is more than 10% of South Africa’s population.
“We have to make sure that each and every one of those members are taken care of, that their primary needs are put first, that communities are invested in; that is the essence of what a mutual does.”
In recent years AVBOB has also shone as an employer of choice, receiving the Top Employer Award from the Top Employers Institute three years in a row. “It is quite an achievement, a wonderful accolade as there are stringent criteria that organisations have to meet, ranging from equitable remuneration, transformation in terms of people, training, development; and we have been able to improve on this criteria every year.
We are also proud of being a level 2 B-BBEE contributor. Many people have come through the various structures the company has and have proven themselves, and subsequently have been rewarded for their efforts despite their background. I am proof of this and have been privileged to be part of AVBOB for 15 years. It is truly a unique business in the way it treats and acknowledges its people when it comes to career advancement.”
But AVBOB’s transformative ethos goes further than its employees and policyholders/members. It also places a high value on the communities it serves which it accomplishes through its involvement with enterprise development initiatives and various CSI projects.
“We are serious about enterprise development. For one, on the funeral side of our business we identify people within the communities we serve to become funeral undertakers. We provide them with training, infrastructure, we identify premises whether to buy or rent, we fully equip the branch at our own expense, and we provide it to these community members to run it as if it is their own business.
Furthermore, they are responsible for identifying small businesses in the same communities which they can support through appointing them as service providers, whether it is catering, the provision of family cars, tents, flowers, etc.”
As far as he is aware, Pillay believes AVBOB is the only business in South Africa that creates entrepreneurship in this manner, establishing business opportunities as funeral undertakers where entrepreneurs do not require a huge capital outlay to start and run their own businesses. “We provide that ‘start-up capital’ for them to do that.”
Regarding CSI, AVBOB has partnered with the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) project to help with the huge challenge faced by many schools, especially in the rural areas that don’t have proper sanitation. “Together with the DBE we have looked at how we can assist by building sanitation facilities. Also, our AVBOB Industries factory in Bloemfontein has piloted a mobile sanitation unit that uses shipping containers – which we also refurbish and stock with books for our school libraries project – that you can basically plug in to the sewerage system to provide sanitation facilities in schools. We hope the department sees this as a good opportunity to meet the shortfall we have in schools regarding sanitation facilities.”
To watch past Saturday’s interview with Pillay, click here: https://youtu.be/neWmxkDBcHQ
In this coming Saturday morning’s episode, Pillay joins Business that matters to discuss AVBOB’s product innovation regarding Aquamation as well as its International Repatriation Service. Tune in to VIA this Saturday, 4 July, from 8:30 – 9:30 for the interview.
AVBOB can be contacted for all customer enquiries and needs via its national call centre which operates 24/7. Clients should call 0861 28 26 21. Standard call rates apply.
*Benefits only apply if AVBOB Funeral Service conducts the funeral.