AfricaLive talks with Agnes Chakonta, Managing Director of Madison National Life Insurance Company, about her entrepreneurial journey and the role of the insurance industry in creating the base for stability and economic growth in Zambia.
AfricaLive: Please give us a bit of the background on the Madison Life Insurance Company. Would you tell us the strategic goals that you would like the company to achieve under your leadership?
Agnes Chakonta: Madison Life Insurance is a Zambian-owned organization, and it has been in operation for the past twenty-eight years. It started as a division in Madison Life Insurance Company Zambia Limited, which was one of the first local insurance companies to be formed, and it was formed after the privatization of the economy, before which there only existed one national insurance company. In 1992 with privatization under the Meridian BIO Bank, Madison was formed.
It was a composite insurance company until 2005 when there was a change in the law with the essence of splitting between general insurance and life insurance. Being formed as a specialist life company made its potential to be realized. From 2006 to date, it has just been on a growth path.
We specialize in employee benefit products under corporate business which includes pension schemes, group life, credit life, group mortgages; basically targeting and working with employers who want to safeguard the lives of their employees. We also have the individual life division where we have various products that are mainly distributed by the sales force. We have about six hundred sales agents on the ground who go round to various organizations and target various individuals selling the products on a one to one basis.
In partnership with our sister company, we’ve got a trust fund The Madison Pension Trust Fund where schemes affiliateMAMCO provides the fund management function, and Madison Life provides the administration. We also have a group and individual funeral policies, and lately, this is what is driving growth. We have different funeral packages and medical insurance policies that are being sold, which are only targeting employers or aggregators.
AfricaLive: Why do you think you have managed to get yourself to the point where you are considered to be the leader in the industry?
Agnes Chakonta: We have been innovative within the industry, and we normally lead in product development. We’ve got a team of salespeople on the ground who are giving us feedback on what sort of products there are, and which ones we need to create. As a result, we develop a product that the market appreciates, and that’s why we have a wide range of products.
We are also very good at paying promptly. We’ve paid claims promptly and on time, and we are always improving on our processes. We are quite widespread and have a branch in almost all of our provinces. We have up to three or four outlets in some provinces depending on the population. We also have an open-door policy when it comes to interacting with customers.
AfricaLive: What would your plans be in terms of future your growth?
Agnes Chakonta: We are trying to utilize technology more as we’ve noted that the younger generation is leaning that way. Basically, you can categorise our market according to age groups where you find that the older generation always wants interaction. Older people want to come to your office and chat with you and make sure they understand things better. The younger generation, on the other hand, want to interact faster, and they want to interact online, they want you to give them feedback and email the policy document. This is why we are implementing technology that can help us interact with the younger generation.
We’ve opened up the customer services centre, we’ve installed the core centre, and we are maximizing on this as a means of reaching out to the people. We as well go into the rural areas to interact with the people to whom we provide the services. Going into the future, we want to do more of that so that the Madison Brand can be known more and become more trusted.
AfricaLive: How do Madison Life Insurance and the insurance industry as a whole contribute to the long term development of your country?
Agnes Chakonta: In terms of insurance, we’ve contributed a lot by offering the protection of assets of the economy and also protecting human beings. Our product has gone a long way to help empower the people. We normally work with aggregators, and we’ve noted that these aggregators range from banks, to microfinance, to associations and all these are lending out money to the economy in Zambia at different stages of development. Should something go wrong with an individual that they are lending money to, they should be able to recover their money. Individuals and families should also not be disadvantaged. So we provide credit life policies which cover things like death, sickness or permanent disablement.
When we go to the bench, we have several schemes that affiliate to our pension fund, trust funds and these schemes make contributions. There is an aspect of where we are pulling resources together, and the money is being invested. Currently, we are a big player in the stock market and the banking sector, and we can lend this money to various institutions and also use it for economic development. We also invest in real estates through the pension funds, and build office blocks and housing, which are adding to the economic development of Zambia and also improving the lives of the people.
AfricaLive: What steps are you taking to improve the penetration of insurance services? Why is it important in your opinion to attract previously uninsured individuals to the insurance system?
Agnes Chakonta: One way in which we are reaching and improving insurance penetration is to be actively involved in microinsurance. We are alive to the need to educate the population on insurance. The company has therefore taken it upon itself to carry out a few training sessions. Our training includes; the financial literacy week, insurance week, and pensions week, as a way of driving education, besides doing our education campaigns. We’ve also gone into a lot of partnership with aggregators. This way, we are adding value and also pushing the pension plan within our society. We have our corporate plans of how we drive education, and we also work with the various stakeholders in the industry.
AfricaLive: What would be your message of confidence to our readers, and how can we change their perception about what Africa is?
Agnes Chakonta: For you to invest, note that the opportunities should be higher than the risks, and Africa has got its risks and huge potential.
I would encourage any investor to come to Africa because there is huge potential in all areas. When you get to any country, get to understand it, utilize the opportunities available and know the exact areas where you wish to invest and the risks associated with it. Also, have in mind that it won’t be plain sailing and that there will be some areas that will need improvement for you to achieve your goal.
AfricaLive: What legacy are you leaving behind as a business leader?
Agnes Chakonta: I have ensured that the economy is becoming more and more empowered, and I have grown Madison into becoming a giant in the local economy.