Becoming an actuary was never part of Marius Botha’s plan. The only director he dreamed of becoming was in show business, rather than suit-and-tie business. Then he was awarded a bursary to study actuarial science at Stellenbosch University – and the rest, as they say, is
Today, Botha’s the new CEO of microinsurer aYo Holdings, a joint venture between telecommunications giant MTN and financial services company MMI, where he’s looking to disrupt and move insurance on the continent to a new level.True to form, even Botha’s move to aYo was unconventional. He joined the company in September 2020, with South Africa – and the continent – reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has yet to set foot in an MTN office, but he’s managed to travel into Africa, with a recent trip to Ghana a particular highlight.
Before joining aYo, Botha headed life insurer Stangen, which he managed to resuscitate from the African Bank curatorship debacle. Against all odds, he transformed the company from a captive credit life insurer reliant on bank branches for distribution and with R4 billion in premium income in 2015, to a more agile direct life insurer in a competitive SA market with digital marketing channels and outbound sales capability. Despite the unique circumstances, Stangen still declared R1.3 billion in dividends in 2018 and 2019 under his leadership.
Then along came the opportunity to join aYo, and it made Botha’s eyes open wide. “MTN’s vision for disrupting financial services across Africa excites me for two reasons. First, at a personal level it is a significantly larger scope in role compared to previous management roles; and second, from a strategy point of view it’s going to fundamentally change the way the people of Africa perceive, and use, insurance,” he said.
Having launched in 2017, aYo has already broken through the 11 million customer mark – but Botha feels the company is barely scratching the surface of its potential market. While it currently operates in Uganda, Zambia and Ghana, it is actively planning to launch in several
new markets in 2021 and beyond.
The game-changer for microinsurance on the continent has been the spread of mobile networks, says Botha. This provides the channel to deliver hospital and life cover insurance products via mobile money, with no paperwork. Product terms are also significantly more flexible than traditional insurance and the primary engagement channel (USSD codes via mobile phones) comes at no cost to the customer.
“By deducting tiny premiums from airtime and mobile money wallets, we’re breaking financial barriers to entry. This is a huge enabler for individuals with low income, or people with irregular incomes. The combination of affordability and accessibility means we can enter markets that
traditional insurers can’t even dream of,” says Botha.
Does Botha have visions of turning aYo into the next fintech ‘unicorn’, those mythical start-ups that quickly reach a billion-dollar valuation as they seek to take over the world? “No, we see ourselves more as fintech camels. Camels are resilient. They adapt quickly to new conditions and circumstances. They carry the burdens of the people around them. It’s an extremely apt metaphor for a mobile microinsurance company,” he laughs. So, whilst the vision is to become the largest insurance platform in Africa, the focus is on sustainable growth and building a strong
trusted brand (more than aiming for quick unicorn status).
What he does dream of is driving greater financial inclusion and security across the continent.
The effects of microinsurance are transformative, as it shields ordinary people from the economic shocks that would otherwise keep them locked into an endless cycle of poverty. And then, there’s another ‘happy accident’ that is a profound part of Botha’s life: ministering at
church. “Being a pastor was never a dream. I got involved part-time in our church, and quickly realised that the more I gave of my gifts and talents, the more I grew and felt fulfilled,” he says.
Away from work, Botha and his wife Maryna have an active, busy, noisy, joyous, never-dull life.
With two small children, his favourite part of the morning is sitting somewhere quiet, savouring the solitude and planning his day. But his favourite part of the whole day is calling his kids to say he’s on his way home. And that’s no accident.