A steady hand for uncertain times

01 April 2009 FAnews

FAnews spoke to Paul Myeza, the newly appointed CEO of Sanlam Employee Benefits, about the changes in the industry and his approach as the man at the helm of one of the industry's most influential players.

With a background in life and health underwriting, as well as in the retirement fund industry, stretching over 16 years, Paul Myeza is perfectly positioned to take on the challenge of steering Sanlam Employee Benefits into an uncertain future.

Born in Swaziland, Paul grew up in the UK, studied in Durban, and worked for many years in Johannesburg. "While I now live in Cape Town, I am not particularly attached to one place, but I will always be a Sharks fan!" he says.

His impressive career path has provided a fair share of excitement and challenges. "I trained as an underwriter and had the opportunity, early in my career, to take on a management role. I spent time as an underwriting manager, before doing some pension fund consulting which culminated in a senior management role in the retirement fund business. For the last two years I have been the managing director of Sanlam Group Risk and now I am delighted to take on the exciting challenge of heading up Sanlam Employee Benefits."

Industry in flux

While there was virtually no progress with regard to the retirement reform in 2008, and the situation is likely to remain unchanged in 2009, at least until after the national elections, there is no doubt that the government has firmly set its sights on reforming the industry, with far-reaching proposals already on the table.

"With the probable direction that retirement reform is taking, there will be a significant reduction in the number of provident funds," says Paul. "We will endeavour to play a role in the consultation process and we have been actively participating and providing input in the reform process from the outset.

"For now, business must continue as usual, because the proposed reforms will take a few more years to roll out. However, everyone in the retirement industry must keep abreast of developments in the reform process and ensure that their services, products and advice remain relevant."

Challenges abound

Since the extent of the industry reforms are as yet uncertain, Paul has chosen to direct his immediate focus on improving the internal systems and offerings at Sanlam Employee Benefits. "The biggest challenge ahead for me is the bedding down of our administration platform. Over the last two years we have worked hard on improving our product offering and service delivery on Group Risk, our Umbrella Fund business, as a well as our annuities.

"In 2009, we need to continue to grow those businesses, focus on our smooth bonus product offering, but above all, ensure that we deliver a superior administration service," explains Paul.

He adds that the biggest challenge the company faces currently is the release of capital. "We have substantial capital that is tied up, because it backs old products that are very capital intensive. Growing the umbrella fund is a key challenge and focus, as is maintaining profitability and growing market share in a commoditised market."

Client-centric focus

Paul says that giving clients what they want is the driving force that keeps him motivated. His management style reflects his passion for people and is poised to create the results he envisages for Sanlam Employee Benefits' clients.

"I believe it is the results that count. So I have a simple and straight-forward leadership philosophy: give people freedom and responsibility and they achieve. My approach to business is based on a firm belief that if you take care of the people that work with you and give your clients what they want, you will have a successful business."

Advice for the newcomers

"Someone starting out in the industry now would do well to get a very good understanding of the events that have unfolded in 2008 and will continue to unfold in terms of the global economy. Understanding and appreciating the current climate would put them in a good position to handle the challenges ahead," advises Paul.

Appreciating the best

Despite the hefty responsibilities Paul now faces in his position, he has managed to maintain a balance that allows him to appreciate the best things in life.

"I am married to Nishana and we have a son and a daughter. We recently moved to Cape Town and are living in Somerset West, an incredibly scenic place. We are truly privileged to live there. We enjoy travelling and even when we are not away on holiday, we spend a lot of time on weekends exploring new places. When I have time, I like to play golf, albeit badly," quips Paul.

It seems that Sanlam Employee Benefits can look forward to a successful future, despite the uncertain times ahead, under the leadership of a man who clearly has a steady hand to steer the ship and who knows how to create value for all those around him, while on the way.

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