SA vaccine programme won’t impact 2021 significantly, says insurer Sanlam

By Roxanne Henderson

(Bloomberg) – 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 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-industrialised 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. It started inoculating health workers in February, but the government’s program 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 South Africa’s largest health-insurance administrator, Discovery, which said last month the country could record an additional 92,500 deaths from Covid-19 by the end of the year if its vaccine programme isn’t effective.

Excess claims

“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 finalisation of business-continuity claims at the firm’s property and casualty insurance arm Santam 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 R8.4bn ($562m) 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. Another venture launched just two years ago, African Rainbow Life, has been “rationalised” into a broader retail unit to drive efficiencies.

The company has reviewed its remuneration model to retain important staff and introduced a new share programme 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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