Riding The Crest Of Change

Being a woman in business is challenging enough. Given the state of South Africa’s economy, being a woman in finance means you really have to be comfortable with uncertainty and change, writes Puseletso Mompei.

The South African economy has taken a battering this year, with nosediving growth and, most notably, rating agency downgrades. The country was further rocked by the news that it has slipped into a recession, after its gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 0.7% during the first quarter of 2017, having contracted by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2016.

South African women working in the local financial services industry are holding their own in the face of these challenges, and three of them tell us how they are not only taking  the challenges head-on, but are seeing them  as opportunities to shine as they demonstrate their skills and acumen.

An optimistic mindset

Kamini Moodley, head of manager research at STANLIB Multi-Manager, and head of STANLIB’s Women Forum, is one of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) 2017 35-Under-35 Nominees. Respected for her guts and professionalism, Moodley says she has learnt to approach everything with a cautiously optimistic mindset, because she sees South Africa for the potential it has, as well as the potential that can be unlocked over time.

She comments: “I think the most important lesson I have learnt is that you need to approach every situation without any preconceived ideologies. Past events do not always persist, and the abnormal conditions that we find ourselves in today are the new normal. We cannot apply one single way of thinking in an environment where our reality is changing  daily. We need diversity of thinking, which we need to effectively tap into, and women  are increasingly applying this philosophy in the workplace.”

Much responsibility rests on her shoulders, as STANLIB’s Multi-Manager team is responsible for the management of R150-billion in assets. Giving insight into how she plans to successfully navigate the choppy waters ahead, she says succeeding in today’s rapidly changing world requires multi-specialist investment professionals who share deep insights with one another, to make connections that count.

“At STANLIB, we have a network of investment experts across the continent, with on-the-ground presence in nine countries. Our access to a broad range of different perspectives allows us to help our customers, both individuals and institutions, achieve their financial goals.”

On a personal level, she asserts that the most important trait that has helped her in her career is her unquenched sense of curiosity and never-ending desire to learn. She says: “An interesting phrase that I came across in my career is that ‘we have to learn at a pace that is faster than the rate of change’, if we are to remain valid. If we apply this mentality to everything we do, I think we will be sure to excel.”

The economic crunch has given rise to fears that young women entering financial services may face closed doors and limited opportunities as companies go for “safe” options, who may be male, but she sees opportunity in these challenges.

“What better way to tap into our unique skillset, at the bottom of the cycle? For me, there is less merit in joining at a time when things are working like a well-oiled machine. The accolades come when you make your mark through the crisis. I think women who are climbing the ranks now will go from strength to strength if they bring calm and focus during this time. Young women who are entering the sector should grab these opportunities with both hands, despite the uneasiness; it builds character and teaches you to withstand tough conditions. These scars can be worn with pride, as these are lessons that are invaluable in the industry.”

Resilience and adaptability

First National Bank’s Jolandé Duvenage is no stranger to trailblazing, having been the CEO of eBucks, which, under her  stewardship, awarded a whopping 50-billion eBucks to clients over 15 years, and grew its offering from airtime purchases to include partnerships with airlines, cinema houses  and digital downloads.

Now on the leading edge in her new role as Chief Imagineer (CEO) of the newly launched nav from FNB (a corporate start-up), she says  she and her team “continually need to grow and adapt our business to new technological advancements, and ensure that we deliver meaningful customer solutions to suit our customers’ needs and wants”.

Jolande Duvenage FNB

Jolande Duvenage

As South Africa goes through its second recession in a decade, Duvenage says: “This type of environment makes us aware of how important our role is in creating helpful and meaningful solutions for customers. We need  to be proactive and ensure that we assist customers in navigating their way through these difficult times.

“In my experience, during these challenging times, people tend to become more resourceful and are often more creative when coming  up with suitable solutions that will suit their needs.” She adds: “These solutions typically end up being more sustainable in the  long term.”

As someone who has been tried and tested many times, Duvenage believes in the aptitude of women, and says, despite the challenging  times that we are going through, there will always be a need for talent. “Having said that, it’s important for individuals not only to be experts in their respective fields, but also to  be resilient, adaptable and open-minded when it comes to career opportunities.”

She emphasises that being strategic is key  and that, as a professional, one needs to understand the difference between being busy and being effective. “Co-creation and collaboration does open pathways, which will help you achieve more and will be more meaningful in the long term.”

Passionate about South Africa

Kate Moodley (main image) is a recognised leader and businesswoman.

In 2010, Moodley took the bold step of becoming a franchise director at Discovery, a business she has built into such a position of strength that, despite it being a challenging year for South Africa, it has had its best financial year yet. “As a leader, I try not to focus on the turmoil, but rather on the opportunities that emerge from our challenging economy. Our suite of products has certainly assisted us in achieving our growth strategy.

“I’ve just re-engineered my focus on my business, and ensured that my team and clients remain positive.”

She vouches that there is definitely a lack of female representation within the financial services industry. “My team is 99% female and I am insistent on changing that gap, as I am extremely passionate about women empowerment. Also, with this being a commission-driven industry, it could make it difficult for new entrants, as the economy is a lot more challenging, which makes selling a product coupled with the correct advice a lot harder.”

The backbone of her success is a strong strategic outlook, and she is focused on ways of keeping clients positive about the country, in light of the political situation. “I am extremely patriotic and passionate about South Africa, so the conversation is really an easy one for me. I believe we have come a long way and there are incredible opportunities within our country, and we need to focus on what has worked, as opposed to what is not working.”

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