Discovery is a global pioneer in the health insurance industry, spawning many practices that seem commonplace today. What brought these ideas about?

In the early 90s government was providing sophisticated healthcare for the white population and incredibly low quality for the rest. There was a need for proper health insurance, and that’s how Discovery was born; out of the idea that we could build a sophisticated, sustainable health insurance that would meet the needs of the whole country.
The problem was that the challenges we faced were significant—the level of disease burden, shortage of doctors, etc. Effectively, what we did was focus on making people healthier, thereby offering a sustainable product that would last for generations. We had the simple idea of incentivising better health. Today everyone’s doing it, but in the 90s it wasn’t being done at all.
The genesis was crafted out of the needs of the country, but what’s happened over the last few decades is that trends are the same everywhere in the world. People are looking to institutions to be a force for good and for trends in technology to enable that. Thirdly, and critically, a massive trend has been behavioural. We now know that 60% of mortality is due to the choices you make during your lifetime. The Vitality model is creating the opportunity to globally revolutionise insurance. What started out as a simple incentive programme has become the integrated shared model—one of the key examples of how you can create economic value and then share it.

“…The country has a resilience that people often underestimate; it has excellent institutions and the in particular universities are exceptional…”

What have been the lessons you have learned about taking a solution that you developed in South Africa and taking it globally?

You often have unsophisticated countries pioneering sophisticated technologies because of their unique challenges. In healthcare, which is applicable to most markets around the world, that is certainly happening. I think there are certain things that you must never compromise on, and then there are other aspects that are fundamentally local that you ignore at your peril. It hasn’t been difficult; the concepts we deal in apply everywhere. Wherever we go we find the same issue – governments are concerned about behaviour, non-communicable diseases and the disease burden, and therefore want to incentivise change. Insurance markets, structures and regulations differ, but core workings apply everywhere.

By 2020, what goals or milestones would you like to have achieved with Discovery?

Everything is built around the shared value model. We’ve set to ourselves the goal of being the best insurer globally by 2018. It sounds an obnoxious goal but I don’t think it’s naïve. By 2018, we would like to measurably be able to say that we have significantly impacted ten million people through the programme. We’re getting superior returns on capital, which is critical at the same time both at a business level and at a customer level, and then we have articulated to each of our business lines what they have to do. At the foundation is the science, the shared value science, the data and machine learning.
We are now working with Hannover Re, a big German insurer. Together with them, we have built almost a black box where we are going to smaller markets offering kind of a Vitality Lite to insurers. We’re speaking to many companies in many markets, so we think we can get a lot more ubiquitous globally through a tailored, simple solution that won’t play well with a big country champion.

Why should people be looking at South Africa as a place for investment?

It has tremendous opportunities. It has the remarkable good will of its people, in spite of what you hear. There really is a rainbow nation under the surface that we have let corrode a bit. The country has a resilience that people often underestimate; it has excellent institutions and the in particular universities are exceptional. You come to Silicon or the Cape and its technology, its people – we have people that compete on a global level. We also have the weather and beauty of the place, which we should make more use of. This country has a lot to offer and the biggest variable is our own attitude and confidence.