Sam Camilleri - Transformation is key

CEO and Principal Officer of Natal Joint Municipal Pension/KwaZulu-Natal Joint Municipal Provident Funds (NJMPF)

SAM CAMILLERI is the CEO and Principal Officer of Natal Joint Municipal Pension/KwaZulu-Natal Joint Municipal Provident Funds (NJMPF) which currently administers a total of R 18 billion in assets.

Sam Camilleri's professional career has included being appointed as a general manager for the Aviva Group in Australia - globally one of the largest financial services companies. He also held the position of CEO of Norwich Investment Management Ltd Australia. Prior to this, Sam held the position of Portfolio Manager at Chase NBA. Some years ago, Sam was offered a position in South Africa as the CEO of a Cape Town based asset management company. This investment experience gained over the last three decades has played a significant role to his current position. These experiences he said, have equipped him with a level of understanding which has been critical to his role at NJMPF. He was able to take his knowledge from the investment side of the fund management industry and apply this acumen to administrating and investment performance of a pension fund.

Sam was appointed as CEO of the NJMPF in July 2007 and has spent the last ten years dramatically transforming the organisation from an old-fashioned paper based bureaucracy to a local and international multi-award-winning retirement fund. He says, "I took the organisation to something that is modern and up to speed with technology."

When Sam first started at the NJMPF, there was only one computer in the entire building and the employees were reliant on paper based files and a typing pool. There were no standardised forms or network computerised systems.

His first task was to modernise the NJMPF and to develop operating policies and procedures. He says, "This was a journey that we were going to undertake as a team, we were going to transform the business. This challenge was difficult as we had to train staff, develop a new administration IT platform and still deliver a quality service to our members - it was an interesting experience."

An initial requirement was to upskill employees, which took place over a two-year period. Basic computer skills and programmes were taught and the almost five million paper files, which filled much of the office space, had to be captured on computer.

"I had staff threatening to go on strike - one Friday afternoon when I removed the adding machines from everyone's desks and insisted that from the Monday morning all calculations had to done on the computer system," says Sam Camilleri.

In addition, we moved our offices from Pietermaritzburg to a contemporary office park in Westville, Durban.

The staff also needed to understand that they were employed by a non-profit organisation and were working for their clients' benefit, which was a major culture change. The change in the ethos of the NJMPF was dramatic as staff were now required to strive for excellence and required to meet the expectations of the members.

The innovative approach has meant a change in the remuneration policy in which staff are now rewarded both through financial incentives and promotions for their achievements.

Because of these changes, the Fund started to become known throughout the pension industry and began winning industry awards for excellence.

Furthermore, says Sam, "the various awards that the NJMPF has received have prompted the staff to want to achieve more. They are very competitive, they enjoy winning and they see the awards as recognition of their efforts." Since this transformation, the NJMPF has won a staggering total of 33 awards of which 12 are international awards.

His staff are encouraged to participate and provide suggestions for procedures or innovations that will enhance value for the members of the NJMPF.

Even though there have been negative economic times, the NJMPF has had only one negative quarter of returns in the last seventeen years. "Our pensioners have received exceptional returns. We have pensioners now being paid more than when they were working".

Throughout the last decade, we have always given our pensioners full CPI and a thirteenth cheque. The result is that our pensioners have received increases/returns significantly above inflation," said Sam Camilleri.

He added, "We now compete against the biggest pension funds and our returns are compatible against the best of best, in fact, Alexander Forbes one of South Africa's largest asset consultants has ranked the NJMPF consistently in the top quartile of investment returns."

Looking forward, we will be offering living annuities to our retiring members from the Defined Contribution Fund. On the communication front, we have recently introduced a new website as well as a mobile app, which allows our members greater access to information about their funds."

Through running financial literacy programmes, the NJMPF is also trying to educate municipal workers about saving for the future.

Sam says that he enjoys relaxing at home in his free time and usually spends his weekends watching his son's various sporting activities.

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