Dr Edward Odundo: When retirement benefits regulator retires


Dr Edward Odundo is the former CEO of the Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA). FILE PHOTO | POOL

How many hats can a man wear in his lifetime? Depends on who you ask. If you ask Dr Edward Odundo, he will probably say, “as long as your neck is strong enough to hold hats, wear them.”

He would know, seeing the plethora of hats he has worn and still wears.

Dr Odundo [PhD Business Administration, Strategic Management] is the Director of the School of Pension and Retirement Studies, a board member of Equity Group Holdings, chairman of the Equity Life Assurance Company, and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi's School of Business and a consultant in pensions, tax, corporate governance, and financial services.

He is the former chairman of the Public Service Superannuation Scheme, former CEO of the Retirement Benefits Authority(RBA), and former director of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), Insurance Regulatory Authority, and Policy Holders Compensation Fund.

He is currently a board member of the Insurance Training and Educational Trust, trustee of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, and the former President of the International Organisation of Pensions Supervisors.

He has also published two books and is writing a third. And these are just the hats we can fit here.

He is now retired, but you have to wonder how that hat sits on his head.

After 40 years on the grind, now retired, is it difficult adapting to the slower pace of life?

One thing I tell people about retirement is that you can plan for it, but when you get there, you discover that it is not what you thought it would be.

And for somebody like me who was the pension industry regulator for the last 16 years, basically setting it up, I found out that not all the policies and rules work for retirees. Immediately after you retire, the first thing that hits you is that you cannot take care of yourself medically.

I worked for nearly 40 years, and in that period, I was lucky to have medical insurance cover throughout because I worked in big institutions. I didn’t even think of it. And then all of a sudden, it was cut off.

In that situation, you realise that you must pay for your - and your family’s- medical cover. Luckily, I introduced post-retirement medical cover when I was the chief executive of RBA. Now four companies are offering it.

When I had spinal surgery, I went to the Aga Khan University Hospital and they [surgeons] sorted it out, and the insurer paid Sh700,000 without any issues.

It’s a one-off cover for life. I paid Sh2.5 million. So my advice to anyone is to take the cover at an early age and start paying for it slowly because retirement is coming.

Are you happier now than when you were working?

I would say yes. Yes in the sense that I’ve done my part, and the pressure doesn’t exist anymore like was the norm. Now it’s my own time but when I was working in an office, I didn’t own my time.

It’s the case with most employees, even if you are a Cabinet secretary, you must be in the office by a certain time. [Chuckles] And you’ll be there at whatever time your boss wants you to be there. Once in a while, you’re called for a meeting, and you’re fired... Every day something is happening.

So you’re always on the move. But it reaches a point where you’ve done so much running around that you don’t want new appointments. I don’t want those appointments because they would interfere with my day-to-day life.

I’m happier now that I can do a few things on my own and control my programme. Oh, another thing I would tell people about retirement is not to retire with a loan because you will not be able to pay. Once you reach 50, or thereabout, consolidate so that you remain with a few things.

Owning pieces of land everywhere will not help. Sort out your debts before you retire. Lastly, do something in retirement. You can’t just sit idle from dawn to dusk. It’s unnatural.

I’m teaching at the university and I do a few other things that keep me going. I lecture students in the morning, which helps my brain. I also sit on several boards and such things.

Retirement is trickier for men than women. My wife has something to do with her fellow women. As men, we need to engage with each other more. Find charities to support, and give back.

I’m with the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya. I deal with the church and university, and that keeps me busy but not full-time. This space is very nice for me.

You're not one of those people who think of settling in the village, are you?

I have a house in the village. My wife was in the village the other day. We're both here. And the good thing is that even when I go to the village, I teach because I have an internet connection.

You know when you've built a house and you have all the facilities, it's just like Nairobi. And I like it because it's even more peaceful than here.

In the village, the most exciting thing is a cow passing by. [Chuckles] And it's green with fresh air. Sometimes I go and stay for many days, but my wife likes to stay longer.

You have four daughters. How has your experience been raising girls?

All I ever wanted for my girls is for them to be professionals in their own right, whereby they can survive without us. I trained them to be independent, find their strengths, and determine their life course.

My firstborn is a medical doctor. She was in Kenya High School. My second was in Alliance Girls. She was good at arts, so she became a lawyer.


Dr Edward Odundo is the former CEO of the Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA). FILE PHOTO | POOL

The third one is in communication, and our last is in her final year in university. Two are married. They are all out of the nest except our last one, the pension baby. [Laughs]

Empty nest is here.

Oh yeah. Whereas it was always a full house, and we were used to sending someone, when my last born is off visiting her siblings, there is nobody to send.

When my wife decides to go to the village, it is even more empty. You will be down here and hear sounds upstairs, imagined sounds. [Laughs]

Did you ever crave to have sons?

You know this is not the first time someone has asked this question, but every time my response is 'what for?' I see how we have messed up the boy child. Focus has been so much on the girl child; she is well educated and trained and a workhorse.

At work, she is much ahead of her male counterparts. I see it at the university. Most of the students who are doing their Master's degrees are women. I don't know where the men are as these women push themselves forward.

When you find a 40-year-old man living with his parents, it is because he is scared of getting married to these empowered women.

So, I'm not missing anything by not having sons because now they would be giving me hell. My daughters, on the other hand, are very good. [Chuckles] They have this thing of taking care of you.

I think it's a natural thing for the girl child. When they come here, they are all busy cooking, or they bring different food. If I had a son, maybe I'd be lucky to have him visit us, and the best he'd bring with him is some money.

How was your childhood?

Very interesting. I grew up in Eastlands, Nairobi. I was born in the village but I grew up in Mbotela. I was a mass server at Our Lady of Visitation Catholic Church. Life was different then.

My dad was an estate agent and my mom was a businesswoman so I used to help her a lot in business. We learned early to work hard to survive.

What were your dreams growing up?

I wanted to be an accountant when I was in secondary school because accountants made a lot of money. I pursued a career in business and I think because my parents were business people, it just came on naturally.

What's your secret to happiness?

Faith, hope, and charity. Believe in God because that's where your dreams come from. Pray towards what you want but work towards it.

Kenyans pray and sit down and say, 'Okay, the rain will come tomorrow.' You work towards it. Plant trees. When you work you are taking one step and then God makes two steps toward you. That's my belief.

How old are you now?


What new skill sets are you learning now at 65?

Human management. I work with priests and also deal a lot with young people. Both groups have taught me so much.

The young people come to me when they have issues with their parents and after listening, I tell them, ‘you know your parents are right?’

Most of them believe their parents are wrong but when a teacher like me tells them otherwise, they tend to listen. I mentor many young people.

What's your philosophy on money?

Money is not everything. Money helps you to meet your basics but it is nothing if you don’t have a family around you. You don’t need much. What do you do with all that land you own everywhere?

The pieces are of no use in the grand scheme of things. What can you do with the Sh1 billion you have in your account that Sh1 million won’t do?

Maybe at an early age, you will convince yourself that you are accumulating wealth for your children but if you do everything right with them, they can survive on their own.

Do you think they will be concerned about the properties and businesses you started? They will be pursuing their own ambitions.

This is where charity comes in. Give away the excesses in your life; clothes you don’t wear, shoes, the money you will never spend, give it away. Give your time. Give yourself to causes that help humanity.

You mentioned that you work with priests, what have you learnt from them?

That we fail to see them as humans, as people who have siblings and parents, and cousins. And they all go through the same challenges as most of us.

They could also be going through those mental challenges that we have, but nobody knows.

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