Find­ing the calm in the fi­nan­cial storm

Nomkhita Nqweni, the new CEO of wealth, in­vest­ment man­age­ment and in­sur­ance at Bar­clays Africa, is re­spon­si­ble for as­sets worth about R240bn. No won­der she rou­tinely wakes up at 4am to be­gin work, writes

CityPress - - Business -

Nomkhita Nqweni gives lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that she’s af­fected by the tur­bu­lent fi­nan­cial world in which she’s op­er­at­ing as she warmly wel­comes me into her sparkling, nearly all-glass of­fice, which has spec­tac­u­lar views over the ex­cit­ing hub in which it is si­t­u­ated on Sand­ton’s Alice Lane.

On the other side of one of her floor-to­ceil­ing glass walls is a large room where some of the 3 000 peo­ple in the wealth, in­sur­ance and in­vest­ment man­age­ment divi­sion that she heads are work­ing.

This sense of trans­parency con­tin­ues into our in­ter­view as she points out pic­tures of her­self with men­tors and friends, in­clud­ing for­mer Re­serve Bank gov­er­nor Gill Mar­cus, Glo­ria Ser­obe, the founder of fe­male-owned in­vest­ment com­pany Wiphold, and so­cial en­tre­pre­neur Wendy Luhabe.

Along­side them is a pho­to­graph of Nqweni with her two young chil­dren.

This is a wel­come change, for most in­ter­views at this level are con­ducted in ster­ile board­rooms that of­fer lit­tle in­sight into a per­son­al­ity.

Nqweni op­er­ates in an arena into which many South Africans un­for­tu­nately have lit­tle in­sight – that of man­ag­ing the money they earn dur­ing a life­time so they can re­tire know­ing it will take them to their graves.

The ma­jor­ity of South Africa’s pop­u­la­tion has, for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, grown up with­out a for­mal sav­ings cul­ture.

Now the govern­ment is busy re­form­ing the re­tire­ment process so that em­ploy­ees not only save for their pen­sions, but also re­ceive good value for their sav­ings, which need to be dili­gently ad­min­is­tered so that they can grow.

“We’re man­ag­ing many of those as­sets on be­half of in­sti­tu­tional clients, which are es­sen­tially pools of peo­ple’s as­sets in pen­sion funds and unit trusts,” says Nqweni.

She started her ca­reer nearly 20 years ago at Alexan­der Forbes, work­ing in a divi­sion there led by Max Maisela. He went on to es­tab­lish NBC Hold­ings, the big­gest black-owned and man­aged em­ployee ben­e­fits com­pany in South Africa.

Nqweni found she was in on the ground floor with the ad­vent of prov­i­dent funds, which Maisela and labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu spear­headed back in the mid-1990s.

“It was Cosatu that pi­o­neered the re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing prov­i­dent funds on a bal­anced ba­sis be­tween em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees, en­abling em­ploy­ees to have vis­i­bil­ity and em­pow­er­ing them to di­rect how their sav­ings were man­aged,” says Nqweni.

“And now we are at the next stage in the process – one that sees the govern­ment for­mal­is­ing the preser­va­tion of th­ese sav­ings upon re­tire­ment, which im­proves long-term sav­ings,” she adds.

Nqweni left Alexan­der Forbes to join Absa-Bar­clays in 2010 to head its wealth and in­vest­ment man­age­ment divi­sion. Now she also has Absa Life and Short Term In­sur­ance to man­age, which con­trib­utes about 10% of Bar­clays Africa Group’s head­line earn­ings.

The chal­lenge she’s been given by her com­pany in her new high-pro­file role is to build its pres­ence in the rest of Africa. There’s no in­di­ca­tion that it makes her ner­vous, and she’s the epit­ome of calm seren­ity in a bril­liant pink dress worn with an el­e­gant, mul­ti­hued jacket.

Nqweni, a sin­gle mother of two chil­dren aged six and 11, wakes at 4am to check the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets and email her team, “but they don’t have to an­swer at that hour”.

She’s sur­prised at the num­ber who do, though, “which is why the best time to have meet­ings is at 5am”, she says. She doesn’t or­gan­ise early-morn­ing meet­ings at the of­fice though, be­cause she en­joys tak­ing her chil­dren to school.

The cur­rent global mar­ket volatil­ity has, how­ever, meant many nights of dis­turbed sleep, and she’s watch­ing TV cov­er­age of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos when I ar­rive.

She’s at­tended their meet­ings sev­eral times over the years.

She’s come a long way from the lit­tle girl born to a teacher and a nurse in Port El­iz­a­beth’s Zwide town­ship, and who grew up in the po­lit­i­cally tur­bu­lent 1980s.

She grad­u­ated from Rhodes Univer­sity with a BSc in bio­chem­istry in 1996 but changed tack af­ter read­ing about the four fe­male founders of Wiphold.

“I wanted to be a busi­ness­woman like them and now they, and oth­ers, make up the ‘tribal coun­cil’ I turn to for ad­vice.”

Nqweni joined Alexan­der Forbes’ re­tire­ment funds divi­sion as a trainee in 1996, and was man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of its fi­nan­cial ser­vices divi­sion when she moved to Absa-Bar­clays.

Along the way, she ob­tained a post­grad­u­ate diploma in in­vest­ment man­age­ment and com­pleted a lead­er­shipde­vel­op­ment pro­gramme at the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence. From the start of her ca­reer, she’s been pas­sion­ate about the growth of black pro­fes­sion­als in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor, serv­ing a term as pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Black Se­cu­ri­ties and In­vest­ment Pro­fes­sion­als.

She was also, un­til re­cently, on the board of the SA Mint and the SA Bank Note Com­pany, and serves on the World Bank ad­vi­sory coun­cil for fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion in Africa. She’s a board mem­ber of the glob­ally recog­nised Ubuntu Education Fund, a Bill Clin­ton ini­tia­tive that helps chil­dren af­fected by HIV and Aids in Zwide town­ship.

When Nqweni’s per­sonal as­sis­tant or­gan­ises her many travel plans, “she knows to call my father, a re­tired school prin­ci­pal, and my mother, now a psy­chol­o­gist, so they can come to Joburg from Port El­iz­a­beth to care for my chil­dren”.

Nqweni goes to the sea­side town for hol­i­days, where she “un­winds by not be­ing busy and read­ing fe­ro­ciously”.

It’s her calm in a stormy fi­nan­cial world.

POWER PLAYER Nomkhita Nqweni of Bar­clays Africa

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