Ensuring employee engagement

This section of our report details past and future performance on the issues that matter most to employees, those stakeholders who are most central to our creation of value, to achieving our higher purpose and to executing our strategic intent. These issues were identified and prioritised through extensive stakeholder engagement – by our employees themselves.

This year, our salaried employee body increased by 199 to 4 111 (2013/14: 3 912). Our African operations added 87 positions, in keeping with our strategy to aggressively grow our Africa business outside of South Africa.

As a result of feedback received from employees through our annual employee engagement survey, a comprehensive employee value proposition (EVP) was compiled and widely disseminated this year. This EVP describes management’s compact with employees and defines the value that the company offers all salaried employees.
Our EVP:

  • Competitive market-related rewards and benefits.
  • Employee share participation towards long-term
    wealth creation.
  • Fulfilment of personal and professional aspirations.
  • A great place to work with physical, emotional and financial well-being programmes.
  • Preferential rates on motor, household and travel insurance and investment products.

Providing care, showing concern

Our status as a listed company entailed considerable adjustment and a generally increased workload for most employees. However, employees responded positively to the group’s new circumstances and status, a fact borne out by the results of our formal employee engagement processes. This year 71% of employees participated in our annual internal Gallup survey, up eight percentage points on 2013/14, while our employee engagement index rose from 59.4% to 63.8%.

Most encouragingly, 70.4% of our people considered themselves to be ‘emotionally engaged’ with the business (2013/14: 68.2%). The extent to which employees felt emotionally engaged with the business was further borne out – although only anecdotally – by the enthusiastic response to the group CE’s call to embrace innovation as well as by the number of nominations received for election to the junior board.

Survey results this year also showed that we made progress on improving perceptions of the work environment and overall job satisfaction. Employees were generally satisfied with their job definitions and interaction with their immediate managers. Employee well-being remained a key priority. The employee assistance programme, which is managed by third-party consultants, ICAS, includes a confidential hotline offering psychological, emotional and financial support. In 2014/15, 867 employees used the hotline (2013/14: 602). In April 2015, we had 3 812 employees registered on the e-Care online system which provides health information and professional advisory services. Some 136 employees took part in group trauma interventions, while 361 interactions involved employees seeking and receiving legal or financial advice.

In the new year, it is planned to direct greater resources towards the financial well-being of our employees – an essential intervention for a business that provides precisely such consulting and advice to third parties.

At year-end, around 70 employees had enrolled for the Charity Begins@Home initiative, raising some R220 000 which will be used to assist employees in need.

Developing our peoples’ skills

In 2014/15 the group spent a total of R49 million on training as calculated in terms of the Financial Sector Code on B-BBEE (2013/14: R67 million).

The reduction in this amount is largely explained by the change to new service providers which, while these international institutions provide training interventions that are most appropriate to our requirements, they are not formally accredited with the relevant South African authorities.

Particular initiatives launched this year included Crucial Conversations, a training session that facilitates discussions with people from all levels on how to deal with difficult or confrontational situations in the workplace, in which 116 employees participated; the Duke University leadership development programme with 21 participants; manager as coach (25 participants); and leadership discussion groups (60 participants). Skills Development spend on African, Indian and Coloured (AIC) employees as a percentage of the leviable amount was 4.66% against the Financial Sector Code’s target of 3%.

Treating our people fairly

Ensuring equity across the group extends beyond the (South African) legislated definition of employment equity; we are committed to treating all employees fairly and honestly. Discrimination on any basis is not tolerated.

The group’s Social, Ethics and Transformation Committee (SET) is the ultimate custodian of our code of ethics, which is regularly updated and widely communicated throughout the company. The code, along with our SERVE model, encourages all employees to always act ethically and to report cases of unethical or ethically questionable conduct. The committee monitors the group’s transformation progress and B-BBEE performance on a quarterly basis.

Shortcomings in terms of remuneration levels in certain categories and areas of our business relative to peer companies were identified in 2013/14 and actions taken this year to ensure that we at least match market averages.

To empower and engage employees, upon our listing, all employees were allocated 1 000 shares each, an investment which we believe has enhanced the extent to which employees feel engaged with the success of the group. Subsequent to the year-end, we announced an employee share ownership plan (ESOP) in terms of which all employees, excluding beneficiaries of the long-term incentive plan, will in SA own approximately 2.9% of our issued share capital. Seventy percent of distributions by the newly created ESOP will accrue to black female employees (82% to black employees).

We acknowledge and enthusiastically practise our commitment to formal employment equity. In terms of
our five-year employment equity plan to 2017 submitted to the Department of Labour and compiled in alignment with the Financial Sector Code, we face particular challenges on the senior, middle management, women in senior management and people with disabilities measures.

Our commitment to taking affirmative measures to achieve a demographically representative workforce extends to our hiring policies. In the year reviewed hires were 84% AIC (54% African) and 59% AIC females.

Recognising achievement

Alexander Forbes has an established recognition programme called SuperSERVE. This programme aims to recognise employees for behaviours that support and realise  the SERVE values and the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) framework.

The programme is built on four tiers:


Peer-to-peer level recognition, (6 994 awards in 2014/15)


Manager-to-team member on-the-spot rewards (1 570 awards in the year)


Quarterly award winners (154 awards to individuals and teams)


Annual award winners (35 awards)

Two formal employee performance reviews are held each year. These are structured by the HR department to ensure that performance conversations are constructive and conducive to ongoing career advancement.

The performance discussion also includes a personal development plan discussion per individual.

A significant human resources achievement was the fact that by year-end 98% of all employees had individualised performance scorecards in place. This was achieved in the space of just two years, at the beginning of the year 89% of employees having such scorecards.

One area for improvement highlighted by employee engagement this year concerned people’s sense of achievement. In the new year leaders at all levels will be expected to reward and encourage commitment and effort.


Performance in terms of the Employment Equity Act as per annual report to the Department of Labour


March 2015

March 2015

March 2015

March 2015



Black senior management







Black senior management female







Black middle management







Black middle management female







Black junior management







Black junior management female















Leading by example

To ensure a focused, practical approach to business transformation, the following leadership model was adopted this year:

Delivering on our promises

In our 2013/14 integrated annual report we promised to:

How we delivered on our promises:

  • Improve the quality of our hires
  • Employee turnover rate dropped from 11.9% to 9.6%
  • Accelerate the roll-out of leadership programmes for junior, middle and senior management
  • Various new courses were initiated, including those offered by Duke and Harvard universities
  • Streamline HR processes
  • At year-end 98% of employees had performance scorecards in place and a number of HR processes
    had been automated


HR priorities for 2015/16 are to:

  • focus on employee financial well-being through various programmes, including the Financial Well-being in the Workplace programme and the employee share ownership plan;
  • accelerate transformation through our B-BBEE initiatives to achieve set targets; and
  • ensure engagement through fairness, care and concern and a sense of achievement and to at least maintain our 63.8 engagement index and 65% of positively engaged employees.

Getting the youth on board

Every year more than 200 bright, eager young Alexander Forbes employees allow themselves to be nominated for the group’s junior board.

By April, the 200 nominations had been reduced to a shortlist of 30, out of which only a handful will make it to the junior board. For those who get through the gruelling selection process, the reward is not just a prestigious seat on the board, reserved for under-35s, but the chance to influence the direction and culture of Alexander Forbes in ways that would normally not be possible in their day jobs.

The brainchild of Group CE Edward Kieswetter, the Alexander Forbes junior board came into being in 2012 to ensure that the voices of younger employees and, especially, their ideas, enthusiasm and fresh perspectives would be heard and felt throughout the company.

As well as providing the ‘old guard’ with perspectives on what Alexander Forbes’ younger, future customers are thinking, the junior board works to future-proof the business by thinking out of the box, by innovating and attempting to deliberately disrupt traditional ways of thinking.

Michael Vryenhoek is a 26-year-old actuary working in SA Financial Services’ Insurance Consulting division and is the current chairman of the Alexander Forbes junior board. He describes being on the board as a ‘great opportunity to get involved in facets of the business you wouldn’t usually be exposed to’. And for all of those involved in the board and in the selection process, he says, the experience is invaluable, both in terms of developing their own leadership skills and in helping to develop the organisation.

As well as contributing to innovation and legitimising the voice of the youth, the board involves itself in a number of projects, most of them originated during the selection process and carried out during the junior board’s term of office. The junior board also runs a Talent Forum, which engages the youth through quarterly themed conversations incorporating relevant external speakers.