WHEN Natalie Bennett quit her permanent job in 2015 to take on a one-year contract at the VM Group, it was a professional risk; but she trusted her gut, and having been recently appointed chief executive officer (CEO) of VM Pensions Management Limited, it's fair to say that fortune really does favour the brave.
Bennett is the first woman CEO of VM Pensions Management which is a growing player in the pensions industry, a role which must have seemed improbable when she was still an actuarial science student at The University of the West Indies, with very different aspirations.
"My plans were to earn a senior role in risk and compliance. That's where my passion was. But God had other plans for me," said Bennett.
For a while, her plans were right on track. Bennett joined VM Group as an interim manager for risk and compliance for Prime Asset Management Limited – now VM Pensions Management Limited. Her portfolio was expanded to VM Wealth Management Limited, and she had oversight of the Risk and Compliance Unit for both businesses. She would eventually be appointed to the role in a permanent capacity and other senior roles before being given the nod to run the pensions business as its CEO.
"I really have come to realise that working to develop the local pensions industry and to help more people plan properly for retirement is part of my purpose. Many people don't realise the value of pensions until it is too late. Our people deserve better. If I can play a role in moving that needle forward, then I would have accomplished much," she said.
Bennett has big goals for VM Pensions Management and wants to leverage digital solutions to revolutionise the way retirement planning is done, not only at that business, but across the sector. VM Pensions already launched an online onboarding platform for those who wish to enrol in a pension plan; an online portal which gives clients access to their pension contributions from anywhere and at any time; and a retirement calculator to help guide the amount clients can put towards their retirement.
The business also recently entered a ground-breaking partnership with the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, where member companies and their employees are able to access special benefits and other products from across the diverse VM Group. A similar partnership was arranged with Transport Operators Development Sustainable Services.
In keeping with VM Group's well-known commitment to providing financial education, Bennett is passionate about empowering VM Pensions' clients to make well-informed decisions that can help them and their families achieve financial well-being.
"By promoting a shift in mindset, people can prioritise long-term financial security and plan for their retirement years proactively. VM Pensions actively educates the public on the importance of retirement planning, providing informative resources and personalised guidance to support a culture of saving for the future," she said.
With her appointment as the first woman CEO of VM Pensions Management, Bennett credits much of her success to the strong women in her life, including her mother.
"My journey is a story of a mother who did her best to help her daughter realise her dreams, strong family support, and their unwavering belief in my abilities."
Bennett understands the great responsibility she has, leading the business during a time when VM Group is rapidly growing and expanding. Its pensions arm is also rich with potential for growth and Bennett knows that it will take sound leadership to maximise its potential.
"I lead from the front and by example. It's important to set the tone from the top and demonstrate the desired behaviours. I want my team to embody, embrace and live out VM's core values in all that we do," she said.
Her vision for VM Group is that it will continue transforming the lives of ordinary Jamaicans by assisting them to attain and enjoy financial well-being, especially during their retirement years.
"Looking ahead, VM Pensions envisions launching new products in 2024. These innovative offerings will further cater to the evolving needs of the market, ensuring that our people have a variety of options to suit their retirement goals. By continuously adapting and expanding their product portfolio, we aim to remain at the forefront of the local pensions industry, attracting new clients and cementing our reputation as a trusted partner in retirement planning," Bennett said.