By Charndré Emma Kippie
Sumarie Greybe has built a career as one of the leading short-term insurance actuaries in South Africa. She headed short-term insurance consulting at her own firm, Quindiem Consulting, for over 15 years. In 2011, Quindiem was acquired by EY and Sumarie became a Partner at EY and Head of EY Africa’s Africa Actuarial Services Short Term Insurance Practice. Over the years, Sumarie served as actuarial advisor to many of South Africa’s large insurers.
Born and bred in Pretoria, South Africa, Sumarie (together with co-founders Alex Thomson and Ernest North) successfully raised funding and started to work full-time on Naked Insurance in 2016, which officially launched in April 2018. She believed insurance needed to adapt to current times, technology, and social standards, and offer the transparency and trust that consumers expect from a Financial Services Provider. As such, she (together with Naked Insurance’s other two co-founders) set out to change to improve the way insurance works by starting from scratch, building a new business model and using cutting edge technology to deliver a new generation of insurance.
Sumarie has obtained a BCom (Hons) degree in Actuarial Science from the University of Pretoria (1994), and is accredited by the Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa (FIA) – a trade association for intermediaries – striving to protect and develop the professional service of all members and their employees so consumers can benefit from the value of advice, risk management and product fulfilment in today’s DIY world.
What is your vision for Naked Insurance? What good would you like to come from it?
At Naked Insurance, we want to change the way people think about insurance because we don’t believe that it needs to be a grudge purchase. We want to create an insurance offering that people love because the customer experience is convenient, the exchange of value is fair and transparent, and the company is doing the right things for customers and the wider community.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background – what led you down this career path?
I’m a short-term insurance actuary with over 15 years of experience in consulting to insurance companies — my colleagues and co-founders, Alex Thomson and Ernest North, were also consulting actuaries before we started Naked Insurance. In our former careers, all three of us saw every day how traditional insurance companies are battling to adjust to today’s consumer.
It’s not just that the experience is manual and inefficient because of the call centres and paperwork —people don’t trust insurers because there is a conflict of interest at the heart of the business model. We realised that to change this it would be necessary to build a new type of insurance offering from the ground up — one that could be digital and automated because it’s not constrained by legacy technology and processes.
But it goes further. Unlike traditional insurers, we charge our clients a flat fee, and donate money left in the pot allocated for claims to causes in our Naked Difference programme at the end of the year. Because we don’t profit from the claims pool, customers know they won’t need to fight to get a valid claim paid and they get to enjoy being part of something that makes a difference in the community.
What 3 tips do you have for building a new business model?
- Start with a problem that you have because it is likely other people are experiencing the same issue. Be passionate about solving it and coming up with a solution.
- When you build a new solution, do not wait until you think it’s perfect before you test it. Don’t over-invest time and money before testing it with customers. Adjust and improve based on customer feedback and testing. Find value even in negative feedback, and if necessary, rethink and try again.
- Surround yourself with people who share your values, passion and vision. The fact that the other two founders of Naked and I share the same goals and have a partnership based on respect and trust is a major factor in the success of our business. It makes the journey of building a new business much more enjoyable.
When it comes to being a woman leader, what leadership qualities do you feel are most important?
Great leaders trust, strengthen and empower their teams. They give people the opportunity and autonomy to grow. They see the value people can offer and give them the space to deliver on it. Another key trait is reliability – leaders must live up to their promises.
What is your ‘why’?
I believe that we can change how insurance works in South Africa, reinventing it so that it serves the interests of consumers. Insurance is such an important part of our lives, and making it better will make a positive difference to society. This is an opportunity for me to use my skills to make a meaningful impact.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?
Since we started Naked, I have been reading extensively to brush up my marketing and start-up skills. I enjoyed:
- No rules rules – Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings, for interesting insight into the culture behind one of the world’s most successful companies.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a must for young entrepreneurs who want to learn to build, test and shape ideas without having to bet the farm.
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz helped me prepare for the startup journey we are on.
- When I want to relax, I read fantasy fiction and recommend the Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb, an oldie but a goodie.
- I also travel from Pretoria to Joburg a lot, so I listen to many podcasts. My two favourites at the moment are: Making sense with Sam Harris and The Tim Ferris Show.
How did you reach your level of success, given the continent’s gender gap, especially among leadership?
From my own experience, one of the most important factors is the support of my husband and family. Since it’s women who are often expected to sacrifice their careers for family, we need to look at creative ways of helping women to stay engaged in the workforce during their children’s early years or to easily return.
I’ve seen many high potential women leave the workforce for five years, then struggle to return because employers fear they are out of touch with the latest industry developments. I have also benefited from the support of some great colleagues.
I believe formal and informal support networks and mentoring programmes can play a valuable role in nurturing the next generation of female business leaders.
Are there any career highlights you’re proud of thus far? And what projects are you currently working on?
The launch of Naked Insurance was a highlight for me, as is every customer milestone that we pass. What we are really proud of is that our business growth is driven largely by customer referrals—we are building a tribe that believes in what we do and shares it with others.
One of my proudest moments was when we made our first Naked Difference payment to six causes in October 2020. This year, we will be able to pay out even more to causes. I think it’s important to note that the Naked Difference is not a traditional corporate social investment programme, but an example of how companies can build profitable business models that deliver wins for the community and customers.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
I believe in keeping my mind and body healthy. I practice meditation and have found the Waking Up with Sam Harris podcasts to be helpful. I stay fit by swimming and running regularly with two daughters who make sure I keep up with them.
I’m fortunate to work with incredible causes through the Naked Difference programme, and look forward to growing our reach and contribution to communities.
Who or what inspires you on a daily basis?
I find stories of ordinary people doing incredible things and achieving success incredibly inspiring. It affirms that it is possible for anyone to achieve their dreams and goals. In terms of who, I am reluctant to highlight specific people because so many people played (and still play) a role in my life and influenced its outcomes.
My grandmother and mother are both strong, independent women who were influential in my life, and my dad showed me that hard work and a positive attitude make anything possible. Throughout my career, I have had numerous individuals that have supported me in incredible ways and have given me lots of opportunities at each step of the way.
What advice do you have for young women in South Africa who aspire to work in your industry? How can they differentiate themselves?
- Do what you say – I believe it is important to be reliable and deliver on what you say you will do.
- Have an inquisitive mind – get your hands dirty in all elements of the business.
- Stay focussed on your goals and don’t let yourself be distracted by the small things.
- Remember that you are only as good as your team. It is simply not possible to do everything successfully on your own.
*Interested in discovering more inspiring stores about Top Women? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.