Over the past five years Liberty and its sister life office Charter Life have increased their share of the individual life market - in both single-premium and recurring-premium products - to 23%, matching second-placed Sanlam.
Liberty's R4,5bn net cash flow onto its balance sheet in 2002 almost exactly matched the net outflow from Old Mutual's balance sheet.
Liberty's results looked worse than its rivals' on the surface, as EPS fell by 29%, but Liberty does not smooth its investment returns. Old Mutual's and Sanlam's results, based on unsmoothed returns, would have been even worse than Liberty's.
Liberty chief operating officer Mike Jackson says Liberty is still way behind its Cape rivals in the employee benefits market, but its share has leapt from 8% to 12% after the purchase of the group administration business from Investec Employee Benefits (IEB).
Jackson says that, like Liberty Corporate Benefits, IEB (formerly Fedsure) specialised in the smaller pension fund market, so there is a good fit. And it would have taken three to four years to achieve the same growth in the employee benefits market organically.
Liberty is not a significant player in the capital-hungry smoothed bonus or guaranteed market, either for groups or individuals. About 90% of its policies are market-linked, and do not need to tie up significant capital.
Jackson says some of the IEB business is invested in guaranteed portfolios, but since Investec took them over from Fedsure the portfolios have been restructured to include fixed interest .
One of the main engines for Liberty's growth has been the success of its bancassurance venture with Standard Bank. Bancassurance premiums - sold through the bank brokers Standard Bank Financial Consultants (SBFC) and the branch network itself - increased by 90% last year.
The relationship will strengthen now that Myles Ruck, former deputy CEO of Standard Bank, has taken over from Roy Andersen as head of Liberty.
There is concern from Liberty minority shareholders that the balance of power - and the share of profits from bancassurance - will now swing decisively towards the bank, but Jackson says the bancassurance deal is a 10-year contractual arrangement which will not be affected by shareholding issues.
Liberty's competitors acknowledge that its competitive edge is in distribution. It has the best-qualified and most productive agency force in SA. It is the only life office to operate a franchise model, in which franchisees are responsible for running their own sales teams.