By Philip Mataranyika
The month of March marks a very special landmark for the Nyaradzo Group as we celebrate 20 years of service after opening our doors to the public on the 1st of March 2001. At the time of launch, we were a no-name brand, a company with an indigenous sounding name when all others had or chose Caucasian sounding ones to satisfy the insatiable appetite of compliance with a colonial past that regarded everything indigenous as inferior.
Undaunted by the weight of colonial baggage, we chose to take the bull by the horns and called ourselves by the name Nyaradzo. We knew then as we do now that the name would someday become our biggest asset as more and more people discover who they really are and identify with their roots.
Today Nyaradzo is the name that invokes so much pride in our fellow Zimbabweans anywhere in the world not least because of our name but also because of the way we have conducted ourselves over the past twenty years, bringing convenience and excellence to an industry that not only deals with the dead but was dead itself.
In the twenty years of our being, we have become the largest funeral assurance company in the land as well as the second-largest life office with branches in almost every corner of the country. In addition, we have set-up in South Africa and England becoming not only a regional player but a global one, thanks to our valued customers. We have been crowned the most customer-centric company in the country not once but many times. Our recent award is that of the company with the highest customer satisfaction index in Zimbabwe. We have been awarded the Superbrand crown on many occasions and we continue to fight in the corner of the customer.
Having started off with a small number of staff, our payroll now has more than 1,500 employees and still counting. These are evenly distributed by gender, with our graduate trainee programme helping in securing the Group’s future to transcend generations.
We have also grown into an integrated financial service provider which is on the cusp of transforming itself into a high-tech business whose innovations serve to make life easier for our customers. Looking back to the 20 years of our existence, ours has been an unforgettable journey, whose purpose goes beyond making financial gain; we derive gratification from providing solutions to meet the needs of our customers, and helping communities around us get by.
When we cut our teeth in the industry, there weren’t many indigenous funeral directors as there are now and it was quite conspicuous that the focus then was on “burying the dead” rather than helping each other bear the pain of grief.
Our entry into the market revolutionised the industry with ground-breaking upshots that removed the burden of going through the loss of a loved one alone, as we provided the much needed padded shoulder. We thus became the bearers of love and hope, and led the way with the provision of buses as transport for mourners, tents and chairs, water bowsers, floodlights and other conveniences that made up for the infrastructural inadequacies confronting our public utilities.
To meet the need for providing additional services and products to our clients, we transformed Nyaradzo from a Funeral Assurance Company to a Life Assurance Company (NLACO) which now has under its wings subsidiaries that are helping to advance our one stop shop concept.
Calundike Exports a member of the group which in the past was about the supply of coffins and caskets has now expanded its portfolio to include office furniture, custom designed kitchens, shop fittings, and other bespoke engineering projects.
Eureka Insurance Brokers is responsible for taking care of the market’s short-term insurance needs.
With the most recent additions to our stable being Sahwira Events and Lifestyle, Nyaradzo Asset Management and Sahwira Bureau de Change, which, apart from being part of the Group’s ecosystem, have incrementalism in their DNA.
Across the country, Nyaradzo has built state-of-the art infrastructure where customers can walk in and get first class service from our professional staff who are trained to support the needs of our strategic business units under one roof.
In the case of Nyaradzo Funeral Services, the unit prides itself of a fleet of buses, hearses, ambulances and other top-of-the-range equipment distributed across the country in our service centres.
Heavy investments have also been made in Sahwira Events which offers total event management, equipment hire and hospitality solutions, with magnificent tourism assets in Kariba, the scenic Nyanga and Vumba, which offers breath-taking views for tourists.
Our team of consultants are equipped to plan any special event you may have and help you turn your dreams into reality.
The thirst to become a global player with Zimbabwean roots has taken us into South Africa and the United Kingdom, where we were welcomed with open arms. As we celebrate our 20th birthday, we are looking at opportunities for growth locally and globally.
However, we find in Covid-19, a temporary setback that will delay rather than derail our growth prospects locally and globally. This respiratory disease has within a short space of time altered our way of life in ways that we had not imagined before. Crucially, it has tested the foundations of our business; just as well, we had long taken the decision to invest in tangible assets to support service delivery, otherwise, we could have been found wanting.
Going into mortal combat with this invisible enemy has meant that we forego the things that we had become accustomed to and adopting new ways of navigating through the pandemic.
The mantra these days is that of social distancing, masking up, sanitizing our hands regularly, and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff, while pinning our hopes on the government to scale up the pace and scale of vaccination.
The harsh reality we find ourselves in as an industry, is that we now face restrictions towards performing our traditional burial rites and arranging befitting send offs for our loved ones to give us moments to mourn and celebrate the time we shared with them.
With funeral attendees restricted, we find ourselves turning to technology to help clients connect to and witness the send-off of loved ones through live streaming of proceedings. Luckily for us, the framework for use of digital technologies was put in place a few years ago when we adopted (SSDA), an acronym for Streamline, Standardise, Digitise and Automate.
While technology has helped us bridge the gap with clients attending funerals virtually, we are hopeful that this phase will pass and we go back to tradition. Our view is that funerals are conducted for the living to allow for emotional closure. Our expectation is that it won’t be long before the situation normalises to avoid the long-term effects of avoiding or ignoring the grieving process, while providing us the opportunity to avail psycho-social support during the grieving process.
Through SSDA, we have churned out ICT innovations that connect our strategic business units; automate our policy creation, premium payment, policy servicing and client servicing processes.
Customers are now able to access our services through gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers. Through our partnership with ZB Bank, we now have the Sahwira Connect Card which enables our clients to access their grocery allowances without delay. Our clients can now make payment of premiums through cash points in OK Zimbabwe, OK Mart, and Bon Marche’ outlets, while also purchasing their groceries.
Our website has been refreshed to make it more interactive and engaging. Sahwi – our virtual assistant – is also available on both Facebook and WhatsApp to afford clients real time assistance from wherever they would be.
Our social media presence across key channels such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube has been enhanced to reduce the need for clients to travel to our offices and service centres in these harsh times of Covid-19 or even call for basic information.
We are grateful to our valued customers for the support they have given us over the past two decades. Not many start-ups were able to evolve into major brands like Nyaradzo has done and it is all due to the patronage we’ve received from our clients as well as their feedback which inspires our innovations.
Along the way, we have also built sustainable partnerships with our suppliers, including our bankers, who are a phone call away when we need anything from them.
Our board of directors members have inspired our success through their valuable insights and guidance, with my colleagues in management also giving their all in steering the Nyaradzo ship through crises and moulding it into a business for the future.
We have surrounded ourselves with teams of employees whose focus is on our value chains. These apply themselves with professionalism, diligence and dedication that separate our brand from the competition.
In spite of the challenges the economy is going through, Nyaradzo remains rooted on solid foundations and has the agility to respond to the exigencies of the obtaining environment.
The anticipated recovery in agriculture, mining, and tourism as well as other initiatives that are meant to reboot our economy form part of the tailwinds emboldening our hopes for a brighter future.
Having set our sights on being a high-tech business, our philosophy will not veer from satisfying the customer’s needs, taking care of our environment, and cementing the fabric of society over profit.
We are of the strong conviction that a sole focus on short-term gains will not drive the positive change we need, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through thinking in the longer term, we have been involving ourselves in efforts to rehabilitate the environment through tree planting and supporting the education sector with a bias towards sciences so that we don’t reach planetary boundaries.
We cannot agree more with the school of thought that says a company is not just a balance sheet. It is also customers, local and global communities, and society – and the natural environment, in short, the world in which we live. These long-neglected factors must be carefully considered.
We are therefore aiding efforts to make our societies better places to live in and supporting frontline and other essential workers who may experience extreme stress and fatigue due to their work.
We are supportive of industry conversations around considerations for zero duty on Covid-19 containment equipment which may not be locally available; tax holidays or rebates for projects undertaken by assurers to boost funeral services capacity; rebates for verifiable cost of PPE and an interim reduction of Prescribed Assets Ratio to free funds for investment in assets related to the provision of funeral services to those of our compatriots who may be unfortunate to lose their lives to this killer virus. It is encouraging and heartwarming to know that the government is open to and welcoming of these conversations.
As we look into the future, priority will continue to be on serving our customers to the best of our abilities, with the health and safety of our staff, including that of our customers, being non-negotiable.
I invite all stakeholders – especially our customers – to join us in toasting for a brighter future as we celebrate our 20th birthday. Long live Nyaradzo, long live the spirit of creating businesses that answer to the call of service. Long live businesses that focus on the customer as the reason of their existence.