Blazing a trail through the insurance maze

Kunene Makopo Risk Solutions co-owner and director Dumi Makopo. Picture:
Kunene Makopo Risk Solutions co-owner and director Dumi Makopo. Picture:

Johannesburg - Entrepreneur Dumi Makopo is a typical corporate pathfinder who has carved a niche for himself in the maze that is the insurance industry.

The Sowetan’s considerable experience in this field seems to be paying dividends, with his reputation for providing service excellence having grown in leaps and bounds.

Born in Dlamini, Makopo moved with his family to Spruitview on the East Rand. His mother worked for a bank and his father was an entrepreneur.

“I am just an insurance salesman and very fortunate to be in a position where I am living out my dream,” Makopo says modestly.

Growing up, he was fortunate to have been exposed to a range of careers, and his ambitions varied from studying law to becoming a stockbroker.

After matriculating at a private high school in Braamfontein, his next stop was down the road, at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he enrolled for a BCom.

After graduating, he joined insurer Hollard’s graduate programme as a broker consultant, selling insurance products on the streets of Johannesburg.

The story of how he chose the insurance route is a peculiar one. “I had applied for a bursary and was invited for an interview by the bursary funder. When I got there, the firm’s boss said he was tired of students wanting to be accountants and lawyers. So, I looked at the departments in that company and opted for risk management – and I was awarded a bursary for insurance. That is how I ended up in insurance.”

At Hollard, Makopo was given the freedom to move to other divisions to get exposure to different products. “While there, I started investigating the possibility of starting my own brokerage since the company was looking for black brokerage firms to work with. The bosses did not like that and dismissed me on the grounds of a conflict of interest.”

Makopo had spent two years at Hollard. When he left the firm, Treasury offered him a job as a senior financial analyst.

“That changed my life because I was in an environment that was a professional, black-led institution,” he recalls.

“I had lots of exposure to policy and to how government works at a very high level. It gave me the confidence to start my own business.”

It was at Treasury that Makopo met Siyanda Kunene, his current business partner in his flagship company, Kunene Makopo Risk Solutions.

Within two years at Treasury, Makopo was promoted and opportunities started flooding in.

But he did not want to get too comfortable as a government official, and when he was offered an opportunity by Treasury to go and work overseas, he headed for the door.

“I knew that if I took the opportunity to go overseas, I would never leave my government job. I had no ambitions of being a manager or director-general or anything like that, so I resigned and went full time into the business,” he says.

After leaving the 9-to-5 job with government for the business sector, Makopo hit upon hard times and had to relocate back home. He and Kunene lost their office because they could not afford the rent.

Makopo says losing the office was a blessing in disguise as it meant that the two had to go out to look for business daily.

While the company now has offices countrywide, its owners have carried that lesson with them. “We go to the office, but we know that if we spend too much time there, we are not getting business. We learnt this lesson from back then.”

The company specialises in a wide range of financial risk solutions. After clinching a deal with a trade union, doors opened up for more opportunities with similar clients.

When the Fifa World Cup came to town in 2010, most construction companies needed performance guarantees. Kunene Makopo Risk Solutions took advantage of this and made a killing in the process.

The exposure meant that the company needed to expand from being just a two-man operation.

“When we were doing guarantees, we were exposed to other opportunities in insuring public sector assets. That space is dominated by multinational companies, but we went for it anyway and after two years, we secured our first client,” Makopo says.

Operating in an industry that is mostly untransformed has forced Makopo to learn the art of perseverance in pursuing clients. He says good work goes a long way in convincing clients to sign up or stay on.

A self-confessed religious person, Makopo says he draws inspiration from public figures such as Bishop Mosa Sono and media mogul Given Mkhari.

“I have never met them, but, from observing them, I admire them,” he says.

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