Old Mutual’s latest nightmare – “Whistleblowing Wendy” batting for ousted execs

A BizNews interview in April last year connected SA’s original Whistleblower, Wendy Addison, and two former Old Mutual executives whose internal flag-waving was studiously ignored. The Johannesburg-based financial services company has been under relentless attack of late because of an allegedly toxic sales culture reflected in mis-selling and non-disclosure. In this interview, Addison explains how efforts by the whistleblowers and her organisation SpeakOut SpeakUp were stonewalled by the company. Old Mutual is now being investigated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority, which has the power to levy enormous fines.

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Edited transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

00:00:06:23 – 00:00:33:09
Alec Hogg: Wendy Addison is with us. It’s been a little while since we last got together here in our Hermanus studio, Wendy. But this is a lot more convenient, you sitting in front of your computer over in the cold north, I guess you could call it. You’ve been keeping yourself pretty occupied and very involved in South African affairs. Just for those who don’t remember, Wendy was the original whistleblower back at LeisureNet. She went through some very difficult personal times as a consequence of blowing the whistle there. But she’s come through it very strong and has dedicated her life to helping other whistleblowers. Just briefly, Wendy, Speak Out is your organization. What does it do?

00:00:57:03 – 00:01:27:11
Wendy Addison: Hello, Alec. It’s great to be back on your show again, and thank you for giving me this platform. Speak Up came out of my experience as a whistleblower and evolved into understanding all the legal imperatives around an organization’s duty to listen to people disclosing information in the public interest. I’ve become an expert with the Council of Europe, training judges, lawyers, and organizations on how to handle disclosures.

00:01:27:13 – 00:01:55:23
Wendy Addison: I also attended Stanford, where I learned about Courageous Conversation Sessions, based on my advocacy to empower individuals to speak up and have meaningful discussions before resorting to whistleblowing. My advocacy is about having courageous conversations because whistleblowing is always second best.

00:02:31:12 – 00:02:43:20
Wendy Addison: So there’s training around that, and my story highlights the risks for both whistleblowers and organizations.

00:02:43:22 – 00:03:08:02
Alec Hogg: We’re seeing this now with Old Mutual, where the organization seems to be facing significant challenges. How did the whistleblowers from Old Mutual reach out to you, and what did they tell you?

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00:03:08:04 – 00:03:40:14
Wendy Addison: They listened to my interview with you in Hermanus in March 2020 and contacted me for help with their situation. They had blown the whistle in 2020 and were facing challenges. I engaged significant agencies globally to assist them.

00:04:22:22 – 00:04:57:22
Wendy Addison: The disclosures are about wealth managers within Advice Works, a subsidiary of Old Mutual, being incentivized to promote their own products against regulations. The whistleblowers want these issues addressed, emphasizing the legal imperative for organizations to investigate such disclosures.

00:05:04:09 – 00:05:42:20
Wendy Addison: The disclosures are in the public interest, highlighting illegal practices within Old Mutual. The whistleblowers want these issues addressed and have faced occupational detriments due to the lack of due process by Old Mutual.

00:06:56:08 – 00:07:02:18
Alec Hogg: Can you explain what you mean by bad due process and perhaps give an example?

00:07:02:18 – 00:07:31:18
Wendy Addison: One of the most alarming examples is when the whistleblowers initially reported to the senior executive board, acknowledging their protected status under the law, yet nothing happened. They then sought legal counsel after being redirected internally and faced obstacles when trying to report externally.

00:08:08:17 – 00:08:39:23
Wendy Addison: They tried to report externally via Deloitte’s email but faced technical issues. This reflects poorly on Old Mutual’s support for whistleblowers, affecting external perception and shareholder trust.

00:09:55:03 – 00:10:55:03
Wendy Addison: The whistleblowers no longer work for Old Mutual or its subsidiaries. One was fired and labelled negatively. They have faced occupational detriments, threats, harassment, and aggression from Old Mutual.

00:11:40:21 – 00:12:07:01
Alec Hogg: From what’s publicly known, it involves inducement for fund transfers to Old Mutual, which aligns with their poor performance. This situation should prompt management to address issues or maintain the status quo, impacting external perception.

00:12:36:10 – 00:12:44:03
Alec Hogg: Am I interpreting this correctly, or is there a different perspective?

00:12:44:03 – 00:13:20:03
Wendy Addison: Old Mutual, like the Titanic, is difficult to change direction due to its size. However, there’s potential for individual leaders within Old Mutual to make positive changes. It’s crucial for Old Mutual to address these issues in the public interest and improve its approach.

00:13:20:05 – 00:13:55:00
Wendy Addison: It’s important to find a dignified resolution for all parties involved, including whistleblowers and Old Mutual, to stop unethical behaviour and embrace improvement opportunities. Currently, Old Mutual seems reactive rather than proactive.

00:14:33:01 – 00:14:42:13
Wendy Addison: Old Mutual appears to be dealing with immediate issues instead of seeking proactive solutions.

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00:15:02:21 – 00:15:24:05
Alec Hogg: Given the UK’s history of imposing fines on financial services companies, a similar situation could unfold in South Africa if the Financial Services Conduct Authority (FCA) gets involved with Old Mutual.

00:15:24:07 – 00:15:50:07
Wendy Addison: The focus is currently on South Africa, but if Old Mutual’s behaviour is endemic, it could have repercussions internationally. The FSCA’s investigation adds gravity to the case and could lead to changes in how organizations handle whistleblowing.

00:16:22:02 – 00:16:56:06
Wendy Addison: America’s reward system for whistleblowers contrasts with South Africa’s early stage in addressing whistleblowing. The FSCA’s actions and penalties against Old Mutual will influence future developments in South Africa.

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