Operations management in the financial services industry in South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Southern Life Association Limited, a South African Insurance company, is at the edge of a major transformation. At the beginning of the first research cycle undertaken for this thesis, the company was preparing itself for significant internal changes. At the end of the cycle the company has been sold and is preparing itself to merge with another company to form a Financial Services Industry giant. At both the start and the end of the research, the company had a vision, which was significantly different from its past. Translating this vision into practical actions that drive the company into the future is critical. When significant changes are required, a vital window period exists that allows companies to effectively, efficiently manage and implement change. Should the period, or opportunity, be missed, companies could find themselves lagging behind their competitors, ineffective and having to plough additional resources into ensuring that they catch up. This window period, if effectively managed, can give the company the opportunity to project itself forward and gain a competitive edge. The management at Southern Life had realised the need to change the company. They also knew that the Board of Directors required an improved return on investment. An eighteen-month period was set aside to design and implement the necessary changes. This thesis attempts to look at what management can do to best utilise this window period to the company's best advantage. In order to intervene effectively an Inquiry Framework, or Philosophical Framework of Inquiry as it is referred to, was utilised. This Inquiry Framework is based on the theories and principles of Action and Applied Research, Epistemology, Pragmatism, the Scientific Method and Systems Thinking. When applied rigorously the framework leads one down a path of understanding the situation, raising concerns, developing the hypothesis or question, and providing and evaluating an answer. The research and inquiry process acts like a funnel, allowing the researcher to start broadly and generally and with each cycle, narrowing down to the specific. It aims to facilitate management problem intervention, change and learning in an operational environment. For practical purposes, the thesis focuses on the operational area of the Employee Benefits Division of the company. It reviews the history of the Division in the belief that historical decisions made have led to the current situation. This being a situation of unprofitability, complexity and a multitude of problems.

Includes bibliographic records.