Funeral service and insurance group, AVBOB, has, over the span of more than 100 years, put people at the forefront of its business. This ethos has been the differentiating attribute which sets it apart from its competitors in the South African business space.
Speaking on Besigheid wat saak maak (Business that matters), the new TV business-breakfast show on VIA (DStv channel 147) this past Saturday, AVBOB’s CEO Carl van der Riet says that despite the increased competition regarding funeral insurance in South Africa, AVBOB is the only group that can offer its clients an end-to-end combination service of both funeral insurance and funeral services.
“Where many of the other companies are only insurers, we are not. So, when it comes to an insurance claim, others tend to deal with it as purely a cash payment, a financial transaction. With AVBOB the culture is different because we know that is not where our relationship with you ends. With us it carries on through the whole funeral process, through the grieving, through the bereavement, right through to finally laying your loved ones to rest. We make sure we are there every step of the way – the whole journey.”
Van der Riet adds that this creates a totally different dynamic as their service is far more relationship and empathy based. And because AVBOB has a national footprint it can guarantee this quality service wherever in the country clients find themselves.
Another unique attribute of AVBOB is that it is a mutual society which means it does not have shareholders. “We only have our members who are our policyholders. Being a mutual, we are also able to provide unique benefits to our members that other insurers can’t. For instance, every one of the more than 6.8 million lives in South Africa that we cover is entitled to a FREE basic funeral* at any of our AVBOB funeral branches across the country.”
Despite the mutual’s proud legacy of 103 years, Van der Riet emphasises that it is very cognisant of the fact that they cannot become arrogant or complacent. “We must remain humble and we have to remain close to our clients and be attentive to their needs.”
“We are only seen to be as good as our last interaction with the client. Even though we do thousands of funerals across the country each month, for each of the families it is their only funeral. So, one has to be very cognisant of this and make sure that the service, support and empathy we give each family is everything that they need in that moment. We can never step back and think that we have arrived.”
AVBOB’s funeral service staff are frontline workers and have been working right through the COVID-19 pandemic to serve the country. And although the group has experience in dealing with infectious diseases like Ebola, TB, and HIV, it is fully aware of the new dangers that the coronavirus brings and the extra special precautions that are required. “AVBOB’s main priority is the safety of its employees. We put that above all else.”
Van der Riet says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the group’s ability to adapt to rapid changes. “This crisis has really revealed a whole lot to us about who we are as individuals and as a business. It has shown us that we are capable of far more than we previously thought or imagined. For example, when lockdown kicked in, we managed to move our entire head office structure of over 700 people off site to a remote working environment in the space of less than two weeks. This is something that I am very proud of and is a testimony of the calibre of team we have.
In AVBOB we firmly believe that we are a family. And the values of family endure. As a matter of fact, one of our founding members said: ‘Take care of the people and the rest will follow.’ And that philosophy still underlies the way we work and how we engage with our employees. So, taking care of them is our top priority. Which we do through constant communication. It is through listening closely, by understanding what they are going through, their fears and insecurities during this time.”
The lockdown regulations have had a significant impact on AVBOB’s sales operations which consist of a very large tied agent force. These commission earners have not been able to work. “The crisis has had a significant impact on them, so we have supported them through this process to make sure that they stay with us and are included going forward.”
He adds, however, that in the Funeral Service business it has been more complex trying to explain to bereaved families who have lost loved ones why they cannot observe some of their traditions and religious practices at the time of the funeral. This is as a result of COVID-19 regulations.
Looking to the future, Van der Riet says that social distancing is going to become a real challenge in terms of AVBOB’s insurance sales operations. And although the administration and client service operations will continue running as they always have, there will be innovation in the way product is taken to market. As far as the group’s tied insurance agents are concerned, digitisation has become a big part of the facilitation process.
However, it is on the funeral side where AVBOB is already seeing changes in burial practices emanating from COVID-19. “It remains to be seen as to how the practices emerge once the restrictions are lifted. This is whether they remain as they are now or revert to how they were before. We are used to dealing with a wide variety of different practices every day and our position is not to try and drive behaviours. Our position is to serve people in the way they really want to be served and to facilitate their processes and their journey through the event.”
To watch past Saturday’s interview with Van der Riet, click here: https://youtu.be/YKfqRGAI1sc
In this coming Saturday morning’s episode, AVBOB’s Marketing Director, Deno Pillay, joins Business that Matters to discuss the importance of the AVBOB brand, what sets the group apart as a mutual as well as entrepreneur empowerment and enterprise development. Tune in to VIA this Saturday, 27 June, 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.