Octagon Africa Leveraging On Technology To Ensure Service Delivery, Business Continuity

In the wake of the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID – 19) pandemic that has ravaged the World over, businesses globally have been forced to rethink their business models in response to the health, economic and social effects of the pandemic. Octagon Africa, a leading regional financial services provider-offering pension and insurance services to individuals, nonprofit, public and private sector organization has re-engineered its business processes to ensure uninterrupted high levels of service delivery and at the same time aligned itself with the future work flow trends that are inevitable.

In an exclusive interview with the Corporate Watch Magazine, Octagon Africa Group CEO Fred Waswa noted that the pandemic continues to mete unprecedented human, economic and social uncertainties, which continue to negatively impact financial markets. In response to these difficult times, the organization has up scaled its digital platforms to ensure services are rendered seamlessly. Octagon Africa has thus developed a vast online system with several portals that provide for digitization of admin processes and eased access to information for Trustees execution, consumption and decision-making needs. This is one of a kind user-friendly system developed in-house, directly addresses the needs of the industry players in the Kenyan Market.

‘As a company that is well diversified into pension, insurance, training and property business, we are cutting down on non-essential expenses and leveraging on technology to ensure we remain afloat as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bite. The most affected business unit is training, however, at the Institute of Pension Management we are adopting the online training programmes and we are proud to say that our clients are signing up for the online programmes,’

said an elated Waswa.

 

According to the Chief Executive Officer, the system; dubbed Octagon Pension Administration System (OPAS) is a robust system, which allows members of schemes to apply for their benefits online thus avoiding physical customer contact. The system is also able to process members’ benefits online to ensure they are paid without necessarily going to Octagon Africa offices. In addition, the OPAS system is equipped with member portals for access of information, HR portal and Trustee portals for communication with HR and trustees of schemes.

 

Even though, technological advancements are catching on well, Mr.Waswa is quick to note that retirement investments are experiencing low returns. Moreover, personal investments are also affected as every asset class has been negatively hit.

 

‘We are currently experiencing a reduction on contributions flow into the schemes as companies send staff on unpaid leave and lay some off. This has resulted in increased access of benefits since April as more employees are laid off and access their money to meet basic needs,’ says the Octagon Africa CEO.

 

On the flip side, Mr.Waswa expressed concerns that employees are retiring without being trained on retirement planning which may lead to misuse of retirement funds. He urges that the general public takes note of the online programme the institution offers to enhance their literacy on pension matters.

 

‘Investment returns have been subdued due to poor performance of the stock exchange especially in the 1st quarter. Schemes that have invested in properties are heavily affected as property values are depressed and loss of rental income due to poor economic activities. Insurance has been affected as well as most clients in the SME sector and individuals are not renewing policies due to lack of revenues,’ he said.

 

Commenting on whether the situation had been escalated by job losses, he noted that layoffs have had a negative impact on pension schemes and insurance policies as this means less contribution and reduced premiums.

 

‘As we go by, every person in employment whether formal or informal needs to put more effort in ensuring he puts in place savings especially for retirement. Savings schemes generally provide a fallback position in the event of untimely job loss. Employers who did not have retirement saving schemes for their employees have had to release staff empty handed. It is quite unfortunate. Employers must going forward, consider establishing a scheme or joining existing umbrella schemes to allow their employees save for retirement,’ added Waswa.

 

 

From an economic view, Waswa notes that with the pandemic, the economy is shrinking quite fast and therefore the government of Kenya needs to allow more tax rebates to businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

‘We are experiencing reduced economic activity and this means that most companies are going to produce losses which will affect yields on the quoted companies. As an organisation working with our fund managers we have decided to reduce investments on the stock market and increase our fixed income assets. The challenge is around investments in properties especially commercial properties as most organisations are adopting the ‘working from home policy.’ We are however optimistic that these changes will not have adverse effects to our business,’ said Waswa.

 

Octagon Africa through its CSR programmes has reached out to support the vulnerable during the COVId-19 pandemic focusing mainly on foodstuff, hand washing equipment and masks to push for low transmission rates.

 

‘We have been able to reach out to the most affected like children homes to supply food materials, hand washing equipment and masks for children and workers in the children homes. We shall continue to support the vulnerable in the society as we keep hoping and praying for better days and a total turnaround in our economy,’ Waswa concludes.

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