Advertorial (with video interview):
Cape Town – From insuring mighty breeding buffalo bulls to race horses, boats and small planes, Sharon Paterson has her hands full as a woman leader in a specialist insurance sector.
“It is still more difficult for a woman to make it into middle management than men,” she said.
“I think that most senior managers and most boards in South Africa are still male dominated. But once you’ve made it passed that middle management, then you’re treated the same as anyone else.”
“The major challenges I have had are the same challenges that any man out there would have dealing in an insurance market, which is highly competitive,” she said.
“[You’re] dealing in an area where the devaluation of the rand against the dollar is not helping the cost of motor repairs, and where the insurance industry as a whole has taken quite a knock on catastrophes, hail storms, earth quakes, and even freezing pipes in the North West from the cold.”
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Specialists at insuring and at building relationships
Compared to other insurance companies, Infiniti is the total opposite of a direct player, according to Paterson.
“Our business is built on relationships,” she said. “We choose brokers and specialist underwriters that we can work with; they in turn choose their clients.”
“We don’t sit in a situation where we will rate a client according to his age, his car, his profile,” she said. “We will rate more to our broker’s knowledge of that person.”
Insuring a buffalo bull
Infiniti insures big ticket items such as breeding buffalo bulls through its specialist underwriter Kuda Insurance Brokers. They have marketers who are part of the game industry and who own game and so “know what they are doing”, said Paterson.
Examples of big buyers of bulls in the media included Johann Rupert, who paid R40m for a buffalo bull in 2013, and SA deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who paid R18m for one in 2012.
“Fundamental are things like when [the game is] … transported, who the seller is, who the buyer is, [and] that is more important than what the animal is,” she said.
What one has to look out for in terms of the big item animals is that there is more demand than supply. “They are really important to their owners,” she said. “And their owners really look after them.”
Keeping it local, but in touch with the world
“We know the market, we know who we’re dealing with [and] it also helps in terms of our client base,” she said.
“Clients can walk into our offices [and] they can see us. We’re available and we’re accessible. We’re not sitting on the other side of the ocean.”
“In many ways, as a local South African insurer, we have the best of both worlds, in that most of our re-insurance support sits offshore, either in London or in Europe and so we do hear what’s happening on the markets there, we are told of developments, which could impact on us, and we are also told of ways of doing business, which we could follow.”
* Do you have any big-ticket insurance questions you would like to ask Paterson? Let us know now.