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COVID-19 remodelled Nyaradzo Funeral Services' business

08 Mar 2021 at 05:44hrs | Views
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new way of approaching issues among Zimbabweans who witnessed a huge number of fellow citizens succumbing to the pandemic after the second wave that hit the country between December 2020 and January this year.

NewsDay (ND) reporter Vanessa Gonye recently interviewed Nyaradzo Funeral Services Group chief executive officer (CEO), Phillip Mataranyika (PM) on how they coped during the COVID-19 peak period where deaths averaged 60 per day. He also gave insights into their 20-year journey in the funeral and life assurance business.
ND: How has it been like offering funeral services at a time COVID-19 was at its peak?
PM: Our systems got tested, our capacity got tested and our resolve was also put to the test. Despite the situation, our resolve was to keep our promises and deliver to the clients that looked up to us in their time of need. We managed to maintain the decency and dignity despite the causes of death.
The COVID-19 peak period gave us the chance and opportunity to explore new ways of managing bereavements and we are happy to say that we managed to adapt to the new normal.
Research on previous pandemics implied prudence on our part to institute measures which ensured that we were up to what the situation demanded. We have been consistent in delivering what we promised.

ND: How is business generally? Are there any challenges like customers failing to cope and in the end abandoning their policies?
PM: The business side obviously receives a knock when the environment experiences the level of fatalities we encountered and these are basics of any insurance business. We always keep our promises as per the policy mandate and we have never faltered. Beneficiaries received full value of their policy terms. We have buttressed our business through new business write-ups and maintained our costs at manageable levels. We did not record any policy lapses directly linked to the pandemic. Our members clearly understand the huge benefits of a policy in a hyper-inflationary environment as cash services would hurt their pockets heavily. They understand that funeral costs are better insured than funding the cost from their pockets. In fact we experienced an influx as many policyholders sought to maintain an arrears free position given the likelihood of bereavement in the COVID-19 era.

ND:  Did you lose any key staffers during the peak of COVID-19?
PM: Our structures never experienced any key losses.

ND: How were you coping with burials during the peak period, was the staff enough to meet the high demands?
PM: When we envisaged that the figures would increase exponentially, we embarked on resourcing all parlours to full complement including introduction of roasters of our back-up teams. Yes, glitches were experienced from time-to-time given pressure on our parlours, but as a company we were quite responsive in proactively capacitating our centres through increased handling facilities.

ND: How did you go through it?
PM: We function as a family whose team approach cuts across the whole organisation. Our training ensures that the majority of our staff becomes versatile and are able to multitask right through all major funeral service functions, myself included. We have surrounded ourselves with teams of employees whose focus is on our value chains. These apply themselves with professionalism, diligence and dedication that separate our brand from competition.

ND: Are the high funeral policy fees justified considering the period we are in?
PM: The premiums we charge are a result of actuarial computations and valuations and are commensurate with the services we give. However, because of inflation and the regulated nature of insurance business, premium reviews are usually behind and we subsidise policyholders at times while waiting for approvals.

ND: Twenty years of service in Zimbabwe and beyond, how does it feel to be in business for such a long time?
PM: The feeling is great. We came from humble beginnings. At the time of launch, we were a no-name brand, a company with an indigenous-sounding name when all others had or chose Caucasian-sounding ones to satisfy the insatiable appetite of compliance with a colonial past that regarded everything indigenous as inferior.
Looking back to the 20 years of our existence, ours has been an unforgettable journey, whose purpose goes beyond making financial gain. We drive gratification from providing solutions to meet the needs of our customers, and helping communities around us get by.
Having started off with a small staff complement, our payroll now has more than 1 500 employees and still counting. These are evenly distributed by gender, with our graduate trainee programme helping in securing the group's future to transcend generations. The thirst to become a global player with Zimbabwean roots has taken us into South Africa and the United Kingdom, where we were welcomed with open arms. As we celebrate our 20th birthday, we are looking at opportunities for growth locally and globally.

ND: Were there instances you thought of quitting, giving up on the whole business?
PM: Not at all.

ND: How have you remained in the trade despite the lows you have encountered?
PM: Our customers have supported us through thick and thin and we have a strong conviction that any lows in the journey provide lessons for the future. Not many start-ups were able to evolve into major brands like Nyaradzo.  It is all due to the patronage we have received from our clients as well as their feedback which inspires our innovations.

ND: Have you ventured into something new besides the five subsidiaries of Nyaradzo Group?
PM: Ooh, yes and that is a story for another day.

ND: We once spoke about starting a crematorium, how far are you with the plan considering the pandemic and casualties associated with it, do you feel having a crematorium may help boost the business?
PM: A crematorium is definitely on the table. However, we still have a lot to do to influence culture and belief changes for our kith and kin to embrace cremation.

ND: How does it feel like to own/manage a funeral business?
PM: Our view is that funerals are conducted for the living to allow for emotional closure. As such we don't focus on the dead, but the living.

ND: What keeps you going?
PM: The passion to serve our customers.

ND: Recent reports in the media say you jostled to preside over funerals for top personalities with other parlours, is it true?
PM: We have never jostled with anyone to preside over funerals of top personalities. Instead the top personalities themselves would have made their choices in their living years by signing up for a Nyaradzo funeral policy. At times it would be their families' choices to allow us the honour and those who come to us have their reasons and we oblige.

Source - newsday
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