Gerald Van Wyk, Santam Market and Business Development Executive and Hanlie Kroese, Santam Market Development Manager.

When small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are thriving it benefits the whole nation. Smaller businesses play an invaluable role in driving economic growth and employment opportunities and are a source of innovation.


In South Africa, SMEs contribute a third of GDP and employ more than half of the labour force. Unfortunately, there is a very high failure rate among SMEs - between 70% and 80% of small businesses close their doors in the first three to five years.

Some of the most significant challenges faced by local SMEs include lack of access to markets, finance, skills and mentorship, burdensome regulatory and tough economic conditions and strong competition.

At Santam, we remain positive about the role of SMEs in the SA economy and the enabling environment that is being created by government. There is always room to make it easier to build a successful business but we definitely see a more favourable policy environment emerging which will hopefully help create a thriving and vibrant SME space which is supportive in terms of enabling regulation around taxation as well as labour laws, funding, procurement opportunities and business mentorship.

How do you approach this segment?

We see this as a very unique segment with its own set of requirements. For instance, SMEs have a range of risks that need cover. These include business interruption – for instance if there is physical damage to property or issues with key suppliers – that can lead to loss of revenue or an increase in operational expenses. This is followed closely by risk of loss or damage to property such as buildings, equipment and inventory as a result of a fire and other perils such as lightning, power surge and water damage.

We have developed tailor-made product offerings for SMEs that consider all the inherent and emerging risks that these businesses might face. We also support small businesses with our exceptional risk management and claims paying ability and a strong business advice capability.

What do you have in your quiver to equip brokers in this important mission?

Our network of more than 3 000 brokers and advisors are well equipped to offer sound risk advice and ensure that the insurance needs of SMEs are fully met.  In fact, a key differentiator of the Santam SME Value Proposition is a highly skilled and knowledgeable business risk advice element which only our intermediary force can provide. We provide our brokers and SMEs with a broad platform that is aimed at empowering and supporting SME businesses to thrive. The platform includes:

  1. an online knowledge repository that is dedicated to providing knowledge and insights into the SME environment;
  2. networking and knowledge sharing forums and seminars to engage with other SMEs and seek out mentorship opportunities;
  3. technology tools such as our risk management application which allows brokers to get a comprehensive view of a client’s physical risk profile with recommendations on how to improve their risks;
  4. diverse product and service offering to meet the unique needs of each SME including risk capacity that enable SME clients to boldly step into new markets with the peace of mind that they are adequately covered.

What do you see as the pressure points?

Santam is passionate about supporting and developing entrepreneurs and over the years we’ve come to understand that statistically the first three years of a new venture are the most challenging. Recently we interviewed more than 600 small businesses in the Santam Start-Up Survey and those insights have reaffirmed what we’ve learned over the years. We share these insights with our brokers to help them understand the inherent challenges faced by SME’s in order to help their SME clients avoid these pitfalls.

Some key issues we found in this research are:

  • SMEs often don’t plan properly. This is a vital part of success for any business. 
  • They don’t manage their finances. Cash flow is a big concern in any business, and SMEs need to ensure that they have adequate savings or solid strategies for lowering their overheads.
  • More than half of small business owners don’t have mentorship support to help them soundboard their ideas and guide their progress.  Whether this is a family member or even a former boss or colleague – a mentor is an invaluable source to have in a business.
  • Entrepreneurs fail to protect and safeguard their businesses. It’s important to understand that unforeseen physical events do happen, and they could seriously affect the owner’s livelihood and that of their staff. Mitigating those risks could help an owner recover from a devastating emergency such as a theft, fire or even an accident.


We share these insights with our brokers to help them understand the inherent challenges faced by SME’s in order to help their SME clients avoid these pitfalls.

Where do you see innovation coming from?

SMEs are a key source of market innovation as they think differently about ways of disrupting existing markets and creating new market places. This is important from an insurance perspective; our role is to provide peace of mind through risk transfer and management capabilities that will allow them to recover from significant loss or damage. SME’s market disruption also brings about a new wave of risks and perils a shift away from traditional concepts of insurance cover. A good example is a marked shift in the value of tangible assets to that of more intangible assets as digital economies become more prominent.

SMEs are transacting more and more in a digital environment where their products and services are consumed in an ecosystem that lives online and not in a brick and mortar environment. At Santam we take a keen interest in understanding these trends and developing innovative solutions that equip our brokers with digital tools and risk-based products that provide cover for both traditional and emerging perils faced by our SME clients.