Yalu founder challenges status quo in insurance industry

Nkazi Sokhulu (Supplied)
Nkazi Sokhulu (Supplied)

Nkazi Sokhulu, founder and CEO of digital insurer Yalu, grew up in the small township of Gamalakhe in KwaZulu-Natal.

He was raised by "professional" parents - a teacher and a nurse - who taught him the power of hard work.

"As I grew older, I learnt that hard work alone isn't enough, and I was fortunate to have met mentors at various points in my career who showed me the value of connecting with like-minded people," he tells Fin24.

"Now I believe hard work, knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time, can open doors you never imagined possible."

Sokhulu enjoys spending time with his young family as well as watching and playing various team sports.

He was inspired to become an entrepreneur by wanting to leave a legacy for his young son of being someone who "fundamentally challenged the way financial services are delivered to the ordinary South African".

He was also inspired by "some amazing young entrepreneurs in other tough industries who are also fighting to change that narrative".

Sokhulu studied finance and accounting at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and then took two years out of my career to study for an MBA at Columbia University.

"Given how few independent credit life insurance products there are in the market, we benchmark ourselves not against peers, but in terms of how much we are saving money for Yalu customers," he said.

He explained that, if you look at long-term insurance in South Africa, there are basically 3 types of insurance:

  • Funeral cover - which is the most known, and has the largest amount of products in the market);
  • Life cover - which requires a lot of health questions for someone to get, but is also very well known;
  • Credit life cover - an industry bigger than funeral cover, but which very few customers understand, in his view.

"South Africans rely on debt to manage and improve their lives, yet their real needs expose them to getting a bad deal from most credit providers who insist on the customers having often badly priced credit life insurance for the duration of their debt. Realizing this made it clear what Yalu needed to focus on," said Sokhulu.

He added that, as a young entrepreneur, the biggest issue you are always faced with is a credibility deficit, no matter how much experience you have.

Even though he was privileged enough to have been one of the two people who started a life insurance company for one of the largest banks in South Africa, investors were not convinced he had the skill and determination to start and run an insurance company.

Yalu was one of the winners of AlphaCode's Incubate competition and the company now covers over a R100m in debt

"Yalu aims to cover all forms of bank-issued debt in 2019, in order to give more customers the ability to exercise their right to choose a credit life insurance provider of their choice," said Sokhulu.

Yalu looks forward to cementing new partnerships with institutions that will enable us to reach even more customers, and in turn save South Africans even more millions in credit life insurance premiums."

He would like to see the financial services industry transform with inclusiveness in mind to give the previously under-privileged an opportunity to uplift their economic status.

In his view, this can be done in some instances by simply abiding by existing laws that give consumers rights of choice.

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