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We are basically planning for two-and-a-half more Covid-19 waves, says Sanlam CEO

"We are basically planning for two-and-a-half more waves," Sanlam Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Paul Hanratty said by phone.
Sanlam Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Paul Hanratty File picture: Leon Nicholas

South Africa may still be short of the halfway mark of the pandemic even after two distinct waves of the coronavirus swept through the country over the past year.

“We are basically planning for two-and-a-half more waves,” Sanlam Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Paul Hanratty said by phone. The insurer is also “very realistic” that South Africa’s vaccine programme “is not going to impact the current year very significantly,” he said.

Africa’s most-industrialized nation has been the hardest hit by the pandemic on the continent, with an official death toll of over 51,000 and more than 1.5 million infections. The country started inoculating health workers in February, but the programme may only reach the two-thirds of the population necessary to achieve herd immunity in 12 to 18 months.

With the widest reach across Africa of any insurer, Sanlam is preparing for a doubling in excess claims from surges in Covid-19 infections and the longer-term health effects of the pandemic in coming months.

The grim outlook echoes the view of the owner of the country’s largest health-insurance administrator, Discovery Ltd, which said last month South Africa could record an additional 92 500 deaths from Covid-19 by the end of the year if the vaccine programme isn’t effective.

“We estimate our excess claims for the full 2021 year are likely to be two to three times the level of excess claims for the 2020 year,” Hanratty said in a separate video conference.

While the finalization of business-continuity claims at the firm’s property and casualty insurance arm Santam Ltd. weighed on its outlook, reserves already raised should help it weather the uncertainty, he said.

Sanlam, with a presence in over 30 African countries, reported a 13% decline in the net result from financial services to R8.4 billion rand for the year ended in December as growth in its general and life-insurance businesses suffered in the fallout from the pandemic. The measure increased by 17% if the Covid-19 impact is excluded.

Results were boosted by a funeral-cover partnership with Capitec Bank Ltd. Another venture launched just two years ago, African Rainbow Life, has been “rationalized” into a broader retail unit to drive efficiencies.

The company has reviewed its remuneration model to retain important staff and introduced a new share program with a “speed of recovery” hurdle to push management to reach key financial metrics in line with 2019 levels as quickly as possible.

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