OLD MUTUAL is South Africa’s leading financial solutions company, backed by over 170 years of wisdom, bringing personal financial plans to suit budgets and financial goals of consumers.
Old Mutual offers investment products, life and disability cover, funeral plans, short-term insurance, financial advice and loans. Old Mutual also offers business-to-business solutions, such as asset management and employee benefits.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Karabo Morule, Managing Director of Old Mutual Personal Finance, a business segment with a staff complement of 5 000 people. In 2018, this segment delivered R2bn in results from operations, which constituted 20% of profits for the Old Mutual Group in that year.
Tell us about your early life, training and professional development to your role today.
My tertiary and executive education qualifications include a Bachelor of Business Science degree obtained with First Class Honours from the University of Cape Town, a Postgraduate diploma in Actuarial Science also from the University of Cape Town, an in-house General Management Programme designed by GIBS for Old Mutual, and I completed the Advanced Management Programme from Harvard Business School this past May.
In terms of my work history, I started working for the global investment bank J.P. Morgan in 2005 as an analyst in Johannesburg and then moved to London in the United Kingdom on secondment 2006 to 2009 where I was an Associate. Five months after my return to South Africa, I joined Old Mutual and have worked in several senior management roles across retail and corporate (employee benefits) businesses in South Africa.
What was your training like?
The training started as generic business training with a focus on actuarial science to qualify as an actuary – that is the degree I attained at the University of Cape Town. I also underwent in-house training for my roles at J.P. Morgan, and at Old Mutual, most of the training has centred on strategy and leadership for the various levels of seniority I have attained.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of MD?
It means a lot to me that the CEO of Old Mutual South Africa at the time and the Old Mutual Emerging Markets executive team entrusted me with the position of MD, in that Personal Finance is the oldest part of Old Mutual – it is the part which sells complex life insurance products, and that is what was the core business when the company started in 1845. I am the first woman to hold this position and it is significant that such a large contributor to the profits of the group was entrusted to someone who was 33 years old on 1 January 2016. It is a great privilege to work with the amazing people that I do, and to be given the opportunity to play a leadership role for a business which is the custodian of the dreams and aspirations and savings of so many South Africans. I don’t take the important role Old Mutual plays in our society lightly.
Have you had any particular challenges as a female professional that you think differ from those faced by your male counterparts? How have you tackled them?
Of course, there have been many challenges faced by many women. I guess I am very fortunate in that being an actuary working in an insurance company, where actuaries are held in very high regard in general, and have worked in other male-dominated environments and through the support of many women and men, I knew my voice could and should be heard, and that my ideas mattered. And I was very fortunate to have the mentorship and sponsorship of many people who believe in gender equality and have been supportive of my career.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term as MD?
I hope that with the team I have been fortunate enough to lead, we will have made a difference to middle-income customers in South Africa and to the people who work in Personal Finance. Improving financial inclusion in South Africa, in particular increasing access and the use of insurance and improving savings levels, is critical for me personally. And ensuring that everyone is able to access quality advice is key. It is also very important to me that the Personal Finance team should be diverse and inclusive, so that we can translate that into customer centricity in how we do things and can provide solutions that help our customers achieve their lifetime financial goals. All of this should result in good profit growth for the business.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
I would describe myself as being deliberate in how I manage, in that yes, I read a lot and check for a lot of detail, but I do take a step back and look to separate the wood from the trees and see the bigger picture. I can acknowledge when things have not gone well but look for every opportunity to outperform and pivot when performance is not tracking the way I want it to. Leadership entails a lot of listening and remembering to play the role of being inspiring and delivering for the team. What I love the most about my job is interacting with the myriad of people in the business – from the top advisers who have been successful for many years, to the young women and men coming through the ranks and those who are breaking glass ceilings, especially the female financial advisers in our team. It is always great to travel to Polokwane, Thohoyandou, Nelspruit, Mthatha and Port Elizabeth and many other areas, visiting and talking to staff and the team who are out there with our customers and serving our customers every day.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position as MD?
I am competitive but the competitiveness is about how we can ensure our business is meeting customers’ needs better and innovating faster and in more relevant ways than our competitors.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
I do so informally but quite actively and try to give feedback in the moment, especially to younger and junior staff members, but with everyone in general – my day can get so busy that if I don’t give feedback in the moment, it would be easy to forget to do so. I believe giving (and receiving) feedback is a great gift to enable someone to do better and be better, especially because I am open to getting feedback myself. I have taken part in formal mentoring as well. I try and ensure the person I mentor has set an objective and we work through about six meetings towards that objective. I wish I could mentor more people but unfortunately the time requirements of my role do not enable me to do so.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
– Being part of a business unit in London with J.P. Morgan which was structuring innovative solutions to transfer insurance risk to the capital markets
– The achievements made and personal growth I experienced as the General Manager of Member Solutions at Old Mutual Corporate, where I was focused on the value proposition for the members in the retirement funds we administered, and
– Being able to celebrate and recognise the achievements of members of the Personal Finance team and making real the new customer-centric operating model.
My lows have been where I feel I have let myself down in terms of my high standards of performance. In one case, I remember clearly, I got feedback that there was a perception that a strategic initiative I was the sponsor of was not performing at the levels expected by others. I went on leave and when I came back, I put the question back to my managing director since I had been performing in line with his mandate, with which he agreed. He guided me around stakeholder management, which was an important learning that I have used in all of my roles, and it turned around the perceptions of the strategic initiative greatly. All my lows have been moments from which I have experienced self-reflection and tremendous personal growth.
What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?
My recent accolades include the Inkanyezi Award from the Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals (ASABA) for contributions to the actuarial profession; and I was selected to join the World Economic Forum’s Forum of Young Global Leaders in 2018, one of only two South Africans to be selected in 2018.
Old Mutual has received several accolades which can be found in public reporting.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
We are currently in a closed period as we will report our interim results on 2 September 2019, so I cannot comment on the current performance at the moment. In 2018, though, Old Mutual delivered 8% growth in headline earnings. Old Mutual managed capital well and continued to be responsible to shareholders in the way it deployed capital. The company delivered particularly good sales and Net Client Cash Flows (NCCF) in a tough economic and competitive environment. Customer experience was improved through digital enhancements and the delivery of key phases of the IT refresh journey. Old Mutual Group remained resilient, well capitalised and managed its costs tightly.
Through what means does the organisation ensure that it maintains a high level of ethics and integrity?
The tone for this has to be set from the top. Integrity is a core value at Old Mutual and this is, and needs to continuously be, reinforced in all of our actions.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?
Yes it is, especially as a responsible business. It is attended to through the diversity that is very visible at the board and executive committee levels and at a business level – we have invested in rolling out sessions which deal with nation-building in Personal Finance and other business segments. When I started in my role as Managing Director, there were only three people of colour on my executive team. Today, there are seven people of colour on the executive team, there is greater gender diversity, and there has also been a deliberate focus on involving millennials in strategic conversations in our business. We also have a keen focus on financial education to assist in changing the structure of our economy from a personal finance perspective, which is core to the business, and that includes increasing diversity in our adviser force. We have several entrepreneurship vehicles with a focus on developing black, female and youth-led businesses.
Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.
The Old Mutual Foundation believes in transforming hardship into hope, obstacles into opportunities and tribulation into triumph. It’s not just about providing funding – we commit to creating the kind of change that has a positive, sustainable impact across South Africa, empowering people and communities through skills development, education, socio-economic transformation and job creation. Five key focus areas are: Enterprise Development, Education, Skills Capacity Building, Support for Vulnerable Members of our Community, and Staff Volunteerism. By integrating these corporate social investment (CSI) activities into the very core of our business, we can measure and improve their effectiveness.
We will host our staff volunteerism awards on 5 September 2019 in Cape Town. This event will showcase what many star Mutualites have been up to and how they have made a contribution. Most recently, my whole executive team took time out of our business planning meeting to ensure that we contribute, as part of the 67 minutes for Madiba on Mandela Day – we helped several other colleagues pack hampers for those less fortunate than ourselves. We contributed to the environment by hosting a green conference – we went red meat free for all catering, used jugs of water instead of plastic bottles, used as much recyclable material as possible including the notebooks provided. We hosted the event in a central location to minimise the number of people flying to get to the venue, thus reducing the carbon footprint.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
We do so through our recruitment and selection methods, training and development and also ensuring our culture talks to that. We track our service performance and to enhance customer centricity, my team of direct reports and I relay our experiences as customers – that being feedback we received from customers and intermediaries about our service – at every monthly meeting. Getting and using feedback so that we can act on it is key. It is about the culture we foster that achieves these virtues.
Do you think your organisation is a great company to work for? If so, please elaborate on what makes it different from others in its field.
Yes, I think it is. It is a very people-oriented company, and makes available a lot of resources for self-development. It also invests in people and there is a strong focus on recognition. I also think I have very caring colleagues and the company has great people practices as well. I am excited about the culture change we are undergoing now as well, post our homecoming to the African continent and listing in June 2018.
When you’re not at work, what do you get up to, including family life?
I love catching up with my friends and family – be it sharing a meal, watching movies, going to concerts or galleries, and especially travelling with my friends. I am single and don’t have kids yet, so I have a lot of flexibility with my time, which is great for now.
Where can people follow you online?