Old Mutual's origins trace back to the mid-19th century, and the beginnings of the mutual aid movement that had helped transform the British housing market in the United Kingdom. In 1845, a Scotsman, John Fairburn, led a group of 166 members in the formation of South Africa's first mutual aid society, Mutual Life Assurance Society of the Cape of Good Hope.
Yet the group grew strongly through the end of the century, already claiming a position as a leader in South Africa's financial services market. In 1885, the company changed its name, to South Africa Mutual Life Assurance Society, to reflect its status as an insurance provider for the entire South African colony.
Faced with a growing number of competing mutual groups - many of whom began introducing themselves to customers as "the mutual"- the company began referring to itself as the "old" Mutual, emphasizing its status as the colony's first mutual society. The name caught on, and the group eventually formally adopted the corporate name of Old Mutual.
Over the next several decades Old Mutual became one of South Africa's most dominant institutions, capturing as much as a one-third share of the country's insurance market.
Despite its focus on South Africa, Old Mutual nonetheless established operations elsewhere on the African continent. The early 1900s saw the group extend into then-Rhodesia, and into German South West Africa. In 1927, Old Mutual set up sales operations in Zimbabwe, in Salisbury (later the capital city of Harare). Soon after, the company added Kenya to its scope, and in 1930 set up a new office in Nairobi. Into the 1950s, the society continued to follow the region's rapidly expanding mining sectors into Tanzania, Zambia, and elsewhere.
By the beginning of the 1970s, Old Mutual income from premiums had topped R 100 million per year. By the beginning of the 1990s, the company's yearly premium totals topped R 1 billion for the first time. By then, the group had achieved the ranking as number 38 among the world's top insurance companies.
Throughout its history, the company had actively recruited South Africa's black population into its membership, in part by actively promoting group memberships and group-based insurance and other financial products--one popular Old Mutual product was that of advance-sale funerals.
In January 2004, the company strengthened its South African insurance holdings when it agreed to buy out the minority shareholders of its publicly listed Mutual & Federal subsidiary. After nearly 160 years in business, Old Mutual had proved capable of renewing itself for a new century.
According to referenceforbusiness.com