Julian Roberts, Old Mutual CEO says “Dynamism is part of the South African DNA”

Julian Roberts, Old Mutual CEOOld Mutual CEO Julian Roberts, applauded the work of Brand South Africa for their crucial role in boosting the public’s perception of South Africa. He was speaking at the South African cocktail event at the world economic forum in Davos.

He said the forum theme for 2013 “Resilient Dynamism” could have been created with South Africa in mind. “The country has a rich history of resilience – of facing up to problems, overcoming adversity, adapting and growing.  And its speed of change, development and growth is clear evidence that dynamism is part of the South African DNA”, Roberts said.

Roberts said South Africa is a country with massive strengths that often get overlooked or dismissed.

“There is a positive climate for doing business.  The country has greater stability and a higher level of fiscal discipline than many countries a lot closer to where we are this evening, here in Davos.  It has a strong banking sector – people forget, there has been no banking crisis in South Africa and our banks are at the top of the best capitalised in the world– and there are sound and deep capital markets”. 

Roberts said Old Mutual are very positive about the actions that the government is taking to improve regional integration and infrastructure which can only strengthen South Africa’s position as a launchpad, “not just for us, but for other global companies doing business in Africa. There is no better place to launch expansion into Sub Saharan Africa than using the skills and base of South Africa”.

Read Julian Roberts’ full speech below:

Julian VF Roberts –“opening words” for the South African cocktail event at Davos, 25 January 2013

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to have the opportunity of making a few remarks at the start of this session and am particularly delighted for my company, Old Mutual, to be partnering Brand South Africa at this excellent function.  I am sure you all agree that Brand South Africa are playing a crucial role in boosting the public’s perception of South Africa – both at home and internationally, and I applaud the work that they are doing.

This year’s Davos theme of “Resilient Dynamism” could have been created with South Africa in mind.  The country has a rich history of resilience – of facing up to problems, overcoming adversity, adapting and growing.  And its speed of change, development and growth is clear evidence that dynamism is part of the South African DNA. 

But I think that, in 2012, South Africa got a bit of a raw deal from the International media.  No-one would understate the seriousness of the events in Marikana – the loss of life was appalling and tragic.  But, from wildcat strikes to rhino poaching, you didn’t have to go out of your way to find a negative story in the press last year.  Obviously – and I know this from talking to our investors – this had a negative impact on sentiment about the globe.  I think that, as a result, there’s a huge disconnect between people’s perceptions of the risk of doing business in South Africa and the actual reality of it.  And in this short time, I would like to address this.

The fact is that South Africa is a country with massive strengths that often get overlooked or dismissed.

There is a positive climate for doing business.  The country has greater stability and a higher level of fiscal discipline than many countries a lot closer to where we are this evening, here in Davos.  It has a strong banking sector – people forget, there has been no banking crisis in South Africa and our banks are at the top of the best capitalised in the world– and there are sound and deep capital markets. 

Economic and demographic trends provide a strong case for investment.  

The country offers emerging market growth potential with developed world regulation – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the evidence over the past five years suggest South Africa’s regulation is better than much of the developed world. 

It ranks near the top on nearly every measure in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

Development is continuing apace – I see evidence of that every time I land in Johannesburg or Cape Town. 

And then there are the people.  There is a huge pool of talent across every discipline; in politics, in business, in sport  – and also in the arts.  Just last week I was at a dinner at Nedbank in Johannesburg.  During the meal we were treated to the most exquisite music from a violinist called Neo – she was just 13 years old, but what a talent.  This level of “human capital”, if you want to put a fancy term on it, is really fundamental to future development of South Africa and to ensuring it fulfils its potential as a pivotal economy in a dynamic and growing region. 

Yes, there are still weaknesses and challenges but they are known and action is being taken on them.  Things don’t change overnight – but they are changing.  I am confident that with the Government, business, unions and civil society working together we will see South Africa continue to grow and overcome its problems.

Of course, South Africa doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it is part of a global economy and the big unknown at present is the extent of any contagion from events in the Eurozone, the Middle East and North Africa.  But I believe this is where South Africa’s resilience and dynamism will come into play.  Look at the evidence so far; even though over a third of South African exports go to the troubled Eurozone, it is still delivering GDP growth at levels that many countries would envy.  So we should look past these short term issues to the longer term. 

The National Development Plan, which I’m sure Rob Davies will make reference to in a little while, provides a clear, bold and compelling vision for South Africa, and a strong framework for action that will be equally as bold.

I believe that companies simply cannot afford to ignore the opportunities for growth in Africa in general and in South Africa in particular.  This is a message that we, at Old Mutual, are taking out to investors and to the media at every opportunity.

But may I say a few words about Old Mutual.  

A key element of our strategy for growth is to expand our footprint in Africa –and South Africa is the launchpad from which we will execute that expansion.  We have skills and infrastructure in the country that are needed elsewhere and are exportable. 

We are very positive about the actions that the government is taking to improve regional integration and infrastructure which can only strengthen South Africa’s position as a launchpad, not just for us, but for other global companies doing business in Africa. There is no better place to launch expansion into Sub saharan Africa than using the skills and base of South Africa.

Our strong South African businesses are developing products and services to meet the needs of consumers across a broad range of financial services, whether that be insurance against financial shocks or saving for a life goal including retirement and, of course, one’s “final expenses” – the cost of a funeral.  We have excellent asset management capability.  And we offer a range of banking services through Nedbank which is high performing, strongly profitable and well capitalised – not too many banks in Europe can say the same. 

A large part of our effort goes into serving the mass foundation market – those at the lower income level who are entering the formal economy for the first time. These people need support – and we can, and do, provide it. 

Old Mutual South Africa is deeply rooted in the communities that it serves and we will continue to work with those communities to raise the level of financial education and awareness.  For example, although there is a relatively high level of life insurance penetration in the country, over 40% of consumers still have no form of retirement savings, so there is still work for us to do. 

Today we employ around 47,000 people in South Africa and you could expect that number to grow as our business grows.  Last year, for example, we created 1,500 new jobs. 

We have a long history of commitment to South Africa and I see no change to that commitment:  Put quite simply, Old Mutual is an integral part of South Africa – and South Africa is an integral part of Old Mutual.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sure that, like me, you are looking forward to hearing from the Ms Chichi Maponya and Minister Rob Davies so at this point I will finish my opening words.  Thank you for your attention and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.

Courtesy: Global South Africans