It was once one of the five largest shares on the JSE, controlling what was then the largest bank in SA, Standard Bank, as well as gold miner Gold Fields. It had large investments in UK property and life insurance through its Transatlantic subsidiary. Now with a market cap of barely R19bn, Liberty is not even large by mid-cap standards. And despite its head start, it is now the second-smallest of the listed life insurers. Only Clientèle is smaller, but it has a greater amount of runway than its more august rival.

So why is Liberty in such a weak position relative to its peers? This reporting season Momentum Metropolitan (MMI) posted a 43% drop in interim earnings, but still made a profit of R1bn. Discovery’s interim headline earnings were down too, to R2.2bn. But Liberty sank to a normalised headline loss of R1.5bn for the full year...

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