SOUTH AFRICA – Financial services firm Old Mutual Ltd has announced the appointment of acting chief executive officer Iain Williamson as its permanent head.

The move ends more than a year of uncertainty over who will lead one of South Africa’s biggest insurers following the suspension and subsequent sacking of former CEO Peter Moyo in June 2019 after a conflict of interest dispute.

Old Mutual said it had conducted a comprehensive global search, but in the end chose Williamson, an actuary who has spent almost three decades at the Johannesburg-based company.

Chairman Trevor Manuel was pleased with the appointment of Williamson, who has held several key positions within the company, including managing director of its retail-affluent division, finance director of the emerging-markets business and chief operating officer.

“His steady hand, strategic mind, and authentic leadership style has been both refreshing and truly welcomed,” Manuel said in a statement.

Williamson will now be tasked with reviving the 175-year-old insurer’s performance – and reputation – which was dealt a hefty blow following the saga with Moyo. The coronavirus crisis also hasn’t helped the company’s cause either, pushing profits further down.

Old Mutual announced on May 28 that first-half profit was expected to fall at least 20% as business shutdowns hamper the insurer’s ability to distribute its products.

Many of the company’s advisers and branch consultants were not able to meet with clients between April and May when the lockdowns restricted the movement of people and goods across South Africa.

But investors also welcomed the “much needed certainty” the appointment of Williamson provides.

“Iain provides Old Mutual with stability and continuity of knowledge, which are invaluable in times of extreme change,” said Warwick Bam, head of research at Avior Capital Markets, said

Moyo’s suspension in May 2019 and subsequent dismissal a month later left a leadership vacuum at the insurer, at a time when it and its competitors were fighting for market share.

That battle between Old Mutual and Moyo only ended in March 2020 when the Supreme Court of Appeal turned down Moyo’s appeal bid.

Warwick Bam, head of research at Avior Capital Markets, said on Friday that Williamson’s appointment provides “much needed certainty” for investors.

Karl Gevers, director and head of research at Benguela Global Fund Managers, said Williamson would be able to hit the ground running as he knows Old Mutual in and out.

“Technically he seems very astute, but we will have to see about his strategic leadership to steer the group through some challenging times. Up to now he has never really had full reigns as CEO, in the acting capacity, so hopefully with a clear mandate he can take the group forward,” he said.

Williamson was Old Mutual’s chief operating officer before his appointment as acting CEO in May 2019.

This was his second stint in that acting role after acting as interim CEO once before in 2017. He has been with Old Mutual for almost three decades.

Gevers, however, pointed out that the market does not appear to be too excited with the appointment, as the share price reacted negatively after the announcement was made.

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