Issue: December 08/February 09
Editorials

STRATEGY

‘Beleaguered’ be gone

Nomkhita Nqweni

Nqweni... scientific approach

Bloodied but unbowed, the gatekeeper to many of SA’s largest retirement funds is determined to retain its preeminent position. A new leader digs in her heels.

Like the comment of Mark Twain that reports on his death were greatly exaggerated, so too with reports suggesting Alexander Forbes is crumbling as a leader of the retirement-funds industry. It was apparent at the annual Institute of Retirement Funds conference. This year the main sponsor, coyness abandoned, was AF.

“You don’t manage a company by focusing on the past”, says Nomkhita Nqweni, the first non-actuary to be managing director of AF Financial Services. “You don’t keep trying to tell people that what you’re doing is right. You show them.”

On reputational damage: “These are legacy issues. They must come to a conclusion. We shall continuously ensure that our compliance and control systems are in place so that matters like secret profits cannot happen again.”

On reputational enhancement: “We’re innovators, as in the way that we’re now focusing on pre- and post-retirement strategies through the lifestage model. And we’re always contributing to the industry, as in our support for industry bodies, providing inputs on technical and legal subjects, and being heavily involved in the retirement-fund reform process.”

On resignations of senior personnel: “It’s prevalent in all businesses based on intellectual capital. We’re vulnerable in the wars for talent and, particularly in the recent past, to emigration too. We develop our people internally so there are frequent attempts to poach them. But look also at the top people we’ve recently attracted, Minkie Botha from SARS being one.”

On service standards: “We’re still the largest single employer of actuaries in SA. We sustain our value proposition because of the depth of our resources and our differentiation. Our clients recognise it.”

On the one-stop-shop concept, commonly under attack, she’s clearly averse to the term as if it were proprietary to AF: “Ours is an integrated service, offering best of breed. That’s what sets us apart from the bancassurance model, which typically enables the cross-selling of product across the suite of a single institution.”

Okay then, but isn’t AF unique in that its focus exclusively on a product range for retirement funds creates interest conflicts. “No”, she says. “First, AF is not unique in the industry because other institutions have similar in-house ranges and more consulting firms are introducing implemented solutions. Second, we must be seen to be offering best of breed. Third, take as an example Investment Solutions (to which Derrick Msibi, OMIGSA executive director, has been recruited as its MD). As the group’s multi-manager business, it depends entirely on the standalone quality of its own performance or it would fail. It’s run by its own executive independently of AF Financial Services.”

A person with clear ideas is Nqweni. A scientist, she’s also trained in investment management and been through the ranks at NBC, SCMB Asset Management and Investment Solutions.

Earlier this year, she became the fresh face that AF needed. And more than a face, at that.