Although already expanding in its native South Africa, chief executive confirms that the outsourcing firm has plans to arrive in the UK next year to better support broker customers

Amid the sun-kissed beaches of coastal South Africa, where tourists from across Europe and Africa come to enjoy their holidays, a battle is going on.

The battle is to convince European and American businesses, such as insurers and brokers, that South Africa should be the premier choice when it comes to outsourcing business operations - ahead of the Philippines and India, the long-standing favourites of many Western companies.

Durban-based outsourcing company Outworx is right at the forefront of this challenge – and it views UK insurance brokers as important customers.

Chief executive Robin Hoekstra, a big South African with an eye on global expansion, is brimming with energy as he shows Insurance Times around the Outworx offices.

“My family say I should slow down, but I love what I do. It has so much meaning,” says the 62-year-old.

Hoekstra is keen to tell Insurance Times about some of the big plans Outworx has coming up - but first, a bit about the business.

Outworx works with firms across industries such as broadband, retail, utilities and financial services.

As for UK insurance connections, the company counts some of the country’s top personal lines brokers in home and motor insurance as customers.

It works with these customers on three fronts - providing customer services, such as call centre work, dealing with inbound and outbound sales and helping companies manage and generate leads.

Hoekstra and his business partners, Antony Stafford and the now deceased Gary Canning, originally started out as an online marketing company, building websites and helping with search optimisation for South African companies. They had a small call centre operation.

In 2013, believing they could do a better job than competitors at the time, they branched out into the fast-growing industry of overseas call centre work.

UK insurance brokers were their first major clients.

“We very quickly became known around town as the UK insurance broker experts. So, we were not doing the insurance broker services, per se - we were doing a lot of the back office work,” he explains.

“We were desperately trying to strategically and internationally broaden our scope of competencies and be in a position to offer services outside of insurance - things like retail, travel, hospitality, telecommunications, media and financial services - but it took us a very long time to convince the United Kingdom and North American market.”

Robin Hoekstra

Robin Hoekstra

Overseas benefits

Today, Outworx is home to 1,600 staff. It has worldwide ambitions.

But why should overseas insurers and brokers partner with Outworx rather than use a domestic operation?

“The cost difference between holding an employee and the seat to do the back office service in South Africa is between 40% and 50% lower than doing it onshore in the United Kingdom,” Hoekstra tells Insurance Times.

“We would rent you or sell to you a person who is fully employed by us. We take care of all the legislative requirements in terms of taxation, unemployment and employee benefits.

“All the client in the UK does, the broker, is appoint us and we will do the work for them.”

Another question potential customers might have concerns culture and language. Could this present a barrier in the customer relationship?

Over the past decade, some major insurers - such as Aviva and RSA - have brought a sizeable chunk of their call centre business back to the UK from overseas, hoping it will make customers happy.

Hoekstra says: “The relationship with South Africa and the United Kingdom has endured for many, many years. That outsourcing of work has been in place for over 20 years.

“The South African accent, whilst it’s commonly referred to as a neutral accent, I think it should be referred to as pleasant on the ear.

“It is very easy to understand. The English [accent] is very similar. Our educational system in South Africa is based on British English and our teaching methodologies are very alike to the British teaching methodologies.”

Building a UK presence

Hoekstra has another ace up his sleeve too. He plans to open a UK business, so that Outworx can become an FCA-regulated firm

At present, any agreement Outworx makes with one broker must be signed by all the others it partners with, slowing down new deals and creating administration for its customers.

With FCA authorisation, Outworx could sign up new customers and cover all the associated regulatory paperwork quickly through its own UK entity.

Hoekstra adds: “I think it will give [our customers] comfort that if there is any litigation requirements, or any actions that need to be initiated, it’ll be done within the UK.

“They won’t have to consider the fact that they need to initiate an action here in the South African courts.”

Future plans

Hoekstra remains confident that Outworx has the foundations to double in size over the next two years.

It currently has delivery centres in Durban and opened an office in Cape Town in October 2022 too.

In addition, the firm is expanding into Kenya in the second quarter of next year - by which time, Outworx’s UK office will also have opened, the chief executive confirmed.

Hoekstra believes the firm’s enthusiastic employees will continue to drive the business forward.

Outworx has strict vetting and testing processes throughout its recruitment pipeline.

Those that get through are then given ongoing training at its Durban-based offices.

Hoekstra says: “It’s a priority for the South African government to create new jobs. We have around 46% unemployment of the youth in South Africa. There are millions of young, enthusiastic, capable youths in South Africa desperately seeking employment.”

Staff training, regulation, global expansion and a real hunger to do business – there’s a lot on Outworx’s plate for Hoekstra and his team.

One thing is for sure - the UK insurance market can expect to hear a lot more from Outworx in the future.