Building a sustainable future: Meet Old Mutual Insure’s MD, Garth Napier

By Fiona Wakelin and Koketso Mamabolo


Old Mutual Insure’s Managing Director, Garth Napier, joined Old Mutual having learnt valuable lessons in the retail sector. In the two years before he joined Old Mutual, Garth built up a store of knowledge running a retail business which was operating across the African continent. “I was able to rely on learnings I had from managing a complex environment, multiple stakeholders and different regulations across different countries.” 

Old Mutual Insure is focused on short term insurance, offering their services both locally and internationally. Put simply, the organisation helps its customers “protect their assets”.


Taking on a challenge

The opportunity to be a part of a well-recognised and respected brand was one that Garth embraced wholeheartedly: “The opportunity to join the company with such a proud history was one I couldn’t walk away from.” Instead, he walked towards a chance to be part of the company’s journey to improving performance. “I thought it was a unique challenge.” 

His role at Old Mutual Insure is to provide direction within the organisation. His responsibility is to ensure that their leaders have an aligned vision and that the journey they’re each on is the same. Supporting the team is also an integral part of his role. “We’ve got a very strong team across Old Mutual Insure and often my role is just removing roadblocks and supporting them in driving the execution of our strategy.”

This support extends to moulding future leaders and Old Mutual Insure has a talent management programme which allows them to identify talent, which is even more important given the size of the organisation. Old Mutual Insure has various programmes for graduates, including CAs and actuaries, with plans to introduce a programme for IT and data science graduates. The talent programmes allow for people to join at the various stages of their careers, extending to middle and senior management.

“We’ve got an employee recognition programme, we call it MVP (Most Valuable Player in the team).” This programme allows Garth to identify the top performers and engage with them.

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Adapting to the times

“Innovation is key to solving our problems from a climate change point-of-view,” says Garth. Using smart geysers as an example which applies to short-term insurance, he explained how technology can take what we’re used to and change it in a way that is both sustainable and of benefit to customers. The impact innovation can have, and the funding solutions required, are even more relevant now as many households turn to alternative power solutions.

“There are opportunities on a larger scale for innovative funding solutions. Crowdfunding is a good example. We’ve launched a platform called ‘SMEgo’, within Old Mutual. It’s a platform where entrepreneurs can go and ask for funding. And as a funder, you can go and decide to what extent you want to fund one of those entrepreneurs.”

Old Mutual recognises that closing the funding gap could go “a long way” and the organisation is focused on offering a product that helps close that gap. “We’ve done a lot of research around what it takes for SMEs to be successful. The number one thing they’ve all come back with is ‘we need funding.’”

The need for funding, to allow SMEs to get off the ground, will be even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which posed challenges, even for an organisation as well-established as Old Mutual. “It’s made us a lot more resilient as a business,” said Garth, and they were able to get almost 90% of their employees working from home. 

“COVID was a big wake up call for the short-term insurance industry,” he noted. “We’ve really had to understand our products, understand our customers’ needs and make sure our product wordings are clear.” 

On the employee side, the pandemic led to the company instituting a hybrid work model. Despite some early challenges, the model is showing signs of success. “We’re slowly finding the right balance between how many days in the office, how many days at home. What we’re actually finding is that more about getting the right people in the office at the same time, so that those engagements can happen in a natural way.”

Old Mutual Insure are proud of how they have overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, “not just because of the way we navigated it from a financial point-of-view, but we also put in place quite a lot of initiatives to support our customers.” Suppliers were not left behind: “We paid all our suppliers in seven days, they had cash flow to navigate that very difficult period.”

Despite the challenges, last year saw Old Mutual Insure reporting their best financial results to date. “We put in place a new strategy for the business in 2019, and that’s what we continue to drive. COVID highlighted for us parts of it that we need to accelerate, especially the digitalisation of our business.”

“It’s been good to see the strategy playing out. “


Practising sustainable business

“Climate change is at the forefront of my mind. It has a significant impact on our business as Old Mutual Insure. More importantly, we have a role to play as corporate citizens to reduce the impacts we have on the environment.”

Along with taking responsibility for their environment, Old Mutual Insure views sustainable business as making a positive impact on stakeholders: customers, employees and shareholders. For customers, it’s about providing them with the solutions they need, and for employees it’s about creating a positive working environment. 

“We also recognise that many of our shareholders are pension funds for employees across the country. If they invest in Old Mutual, we’d like them to get a positive return on investments.”

Reflecting on the KZN floods, Garth hopes it further drives home the urgent need for both the private and public sector to prepare not only for effects of climate change but to play their part ensuring that extreme weather events caused by it aren’t part and parcel of our lives. 

For Garth, one of the key takeaways coming out of the latest gathering of the World Economic Forum were the conversations that were had around a just transition. “Solutions start as a dialogue and often people see forums as talk shops, but I definitely get that there’s a sense of urgency around climate change.”

When it comes to transitioning to a green economy, Garth highlighted how South Africa could help. “We can be an important pilot for how developed economies can fund the transition in developing economies. We have a very important role to play in showing how other countries can approach it.”

As Old Mutual Insure continues on its journey towards the future of sustainability, it’s heartening to know that customers, communities and the environment are top of their agenda.

Written by Editor


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