Paolo Catalfamo

Paolo Catalfamo, the charismatic Chairman of the recently rebranded insurance company LifeStar, describes his journey towards running a business in Malta as ‘a mix of coincidences’. He studied to be an economist and his first job was as a university professor. His varied career then kept him busy between the worlds of business and academia, before he set up his own asset management company in 2000.

Having made a success of that, he sold it in the late 2000s and moved to the United States, where he was a full-time professor at Villanova University. “That time was exceptionally rewarding,” he smiles, adding that he likes working with students and showcasing not just the theory of business but real-world examples.

“I enjoyed my time in Philadelphia very much but, at the end of three years, was ready to take a more active role in business once again. That’s when I saw the opportunity of life insurance and started to look for a small company I could buy in Europe. Contacts highlighted an acquisition opportunity in Malta and here we are! I reconnected with then-MFSA Chairman Joe Bannister and he was central to supporting my purchase of GlobalCapital in 2015 and our investment on the island.”

That was just over four years ago, and Paolo says a lot has changed for him and the company since. “I originally thought I could commute to Malta from our home in Italy,” he quips. “But I quickly realised that wouldn’t work and we moved the family over. I spent the first two years being heavily involved in the operation before starting to hand over more and more to my fantastic management team in the two years since, enabling me to focus almost solely on the company’s transformation for the future.”

The result of that transformation was unveiled towards the end of last year, with its rebranding to LifeStar. Paolo explains that GlobalCapital Life Insurance Ltd is now LifeStar Insurance Ltd; while GlobalCapital Health Insurance Agency Ltd is now LifeStar Health Ltd; and GlobalCapital plc is now LifeStar Holding plc.

“We went through a restructuring process in the run-up to rebranding by streamlining our procedures, introducing efficient working practices, and reorganising the management structure to bring about better performance and improved corporate governance,” the Chairman continues. “Our new name reflects the positive changes we have made and our status as a trusted and respected player in this segment.”

“We also took a strategic decision to concentrate on what we do best: insurance. We have been a proud country representative of one of the world’s leading health insurance principals, Bupa, for many years and have established a solid reputation as a leading provider of insurance products in Malta.”

With the re-launch now successful, Paolo’s focus is set to be far less on the day-to-day of the LifeStar operation and more on crafting the guiding strategy for the Group and its long-term growth. “My intention was always to have the very competent management team run the company, as my time is far better spent on growth activities and strategy,” he says.

For Paolo, leadership is all about service. “I resolutely disagree with a top-down approach,” he continues. “The only way to make leadership work is to listen a lot, understand your people, and – of course – pay close attention to your customers. I am always ready to provide whatever is needed and whatever works, and to really be of service to my team and our customers.”

Paolo is enthused by so many aspects of his role, but none more than his regular interaction with his top management. “When you’re involved in the day-to-day running of your company, it’s very hard to find time to think strategically too. But now that I am focused on that full-time, we can share thoughts and I can spend time thinking them through. I love this kind of coordination and being the carrier of ideas.”

One of the company’s main decisions has been to focus exclusively on the insurance side of the business. Previously, GlobalCapital was also known for the distribution of financial products, but LifeStar marks the move away from that and is now particularly focused on life and health insurance.

“As the exclusive agents for Bupa in Malta for the past 50 years, we have witnessed excellent growth for that brand and maintained it as a successful health insurance provider on the island. Meanwhile, life insurance has grown tremendously, even in the last 12 months, and we are very dedicated to that side of the business.”

It’s a decision that has already borne fruit, with the company maintaining its growth in 2020 with no less than 34,000 policyholders who depend on LifeStar, as well as 2,000 shareholders and bondholders. “We handled 2020 well,” Paolo continues.

“Yes it was full of surprises, but one of those surprises was how well we coped with all the changes, including shifting our physical operations online in just a matter of days. Under normal circumstances such a move would have taken months of discussions and Board meetings, but on this occasion it all got done very quickly and seamlessly.

“Beyond that, I was also surprised by how quickly the market reacted when lockdown first ended and we were back to more normal operations. Clients returned quickly and people got back to their own life with ease. Overall, my opinion of how both we and the island in general handled the pandemic so far is very positive.”

The Chairman also sees the future of the insurance sector collectively as positive. The past few months have highlighted its resilience, as well as its importance for the overall economy. “People want to feel protected,” he says. “More and more individuals are taking this part of life seriously and we are here to help. In fact, we recently launched our pensions products and they are really taking off. Our goal is to tailor what we do to our individual clients; we take advantage of being small and that means we can be adaptive and agile.”

And LifeStar has ambitious plans, both locally and internationally. “As the largest non-banking related insurance company on the island, we want to keep growing, and we will. But things won’t stop here in Malta; we have international aspirations too and will either expand to other markets or acquire companies that suit our goals.”

This interview is part of a serialisation of 50 interviews carried out with Malta’s top CEOs, featured in the bumper edition of MaltaCEOs 2021 publication, which was recently released. Despite the many challenges of 2020, this is the largest edition to date.

Featured Image:

Bernard Polidano

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