Momentum Metropolitan appoints SA's first woman CEO in life insurance sector

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Momentum Metropolitan Holdings has appointed Jeanette Marais as its first woman CEO. Marais has been the group's deputy CEO since 2018. Picture: MMH.
Momentum Metropolitan Holdings has appointed Jeanette Marais as its first woman CEO. Marais has been the group's deputy CEO since 2018. Picture: MMH.
  • Momentum Metropolitan Holdings has appointed Jeanette Marais as its first woman CEO.
  • Marais has been the group's deputy CEO since 2018.
  • Together with the outgoing CEO, Hillie Meyer, they were brought back as the fixer duo to help stabilise the company when it was going through its roughest patch.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH) has announced Jeanette Marais as its new CEO, starting 1 August. Marais will be the first woman CEO of a large, listed life insurer in South Africa.

Her appointment comes almost a year after the only other woman CEO in the insurance sector, Lizé Lambrechts, retired in July 2022. But Lambrechts, who once headed Sanlam's biggest business unit, Sanlam Personal Finance, only ascended to the highest seat when she moved to Santam, the group's short-term insurance arm.

Marais will succeed Hillie Meyer, who was appointed as a fixer in 2018, to help MMH get its groove back, as it was on a downward slide a few years after the merger of Momentum and Metropolitan. Meyer will retire on 30 September. He was on a fixed five-year contract since February 2018, replacing the group's then long-standing CEO Nicolaas Kruger.

The board reached a retirement agreement with Kruger following the decline in the insurer's financial performance.

In their first year, Meyer and Marais, who were swiftly brought back to their former home from other companies as CEO and deputy CEO, reported the worst financials MMH had ever seen, as earnings tanked 12%. But the worst performance was the new business margin, which shrank to just 0.7%, meaning that the insurer was barely making a profit on newly sold policies. Meanwhile, peers like Sanlam boasted margins of more than 2%.

Within five years, the group grew its full-year normalised headline earnings from R2.8 billion, when the pair reported its first results in 2018, to R4.4 billion at the end of June 2022, despite the Covid-19 disruptions. Meyer even boasted that they've finally got their mojo back.

READ | INTERVIEW | Momentum has its mojo back, says CEO

During this period, Marais also oversaw MMH's investment businesses, including Momentum Investments, Momentum Distribution Services, Consult by Momentum and Momentum Money.

Under her leadership, Momentum Investments has more than tripled its normalised headline earnings from R271 million in the 2018 financial year to R940 million at the end of the group's 2022 financial year. The value of new business increased from R80 million to R346 million over the last five years.

Marais, who cut her business teeth in her first corporate stretch at Momentum from 1990 to 1999, holds an Executive MBA (cum laude) from the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the Free State.

"After undergoing a rigorous, robust and thorough selection process, Jeanette emerged as the best candidate. I am pleased that this appointment represents a significant breakthrough in diversity, and I am proud that we found the best person for the job inside our company," said MMH board chairperson Paul Baloyi.

He added that Marais has been a "key contributor" to MMH's strategy and evolution since 2018, and she intimately knows the business and culture.

"She truly understands the current industry environment, the unique set of demands on the business and what is required for the business to succeed. It is a challenging operating environment, and Jeanette's passion, energy and focus on doing what is best for the group, set her up well to continue the company's growth trajectory," added Baloyi.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the MMI board asked Nicolaas Kruger to step down. However the board and Kruger reached a retirement agreement, the contents of which remain confidential. News24 regrets the error.

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