CityPress - - Business & Tenders -

In a cen­tury where “dis­rup­tion” has be­come the name of the game, ac­tu­ary Magda Wierzy­cka is hard at it, churn­ing up the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try.

Syg­nia, in a nut­shell, charges its clients less for its prod­ucts and ser­vices than do its com­peti­tors, ac­cord­ing to its CEO.

“Our aim is to lower the costs of sav­ing for all South Africans,” says Wierzy­cka, her Pol­ish ac­cent still dis­cern­able, even after three decades of liv­ing here.

“We want to en­sure that in­vest­ing clients are treated fairly.”

Her de­ter­mi­na­tion to up­set the sta­tus quo of fi­nan­cial ser­vices is all the more sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing that she’s prob­a­bly one of only a few women at her level in South Africa’s male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try.

Last year, the com­pany that she founded with just a hand­ful of staff launched the Syg­nia Um­brella Re­tire­ment Fund – “the low­est-cost um­brella fund propo­si­tion in the coun­try” she says.

“This is be­cause it has no ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­sult­ing fees.”

In ad­di­tion, Syg­nia is tar­get­ing the emerg­ing younger gen­er­a­tion of savers with the help of its Syg­nia RoboAd­vi­sor fi­nan­cial plan­ning tool. It charges no fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sory fees and has the low­est man­age­ment fees in the coun­try.

The rest­less ra­zor blade brain of Wierzy­cka never stops de­vis­ing new ways to help peo­ple in­vest in a coun­try noted through the decades for its lack of a sav­ings ethos.

She wants to make sav­ing sexy and prof­itable – no mat­ter your age or sta­tus.

“When a com­pany of­fers unit trusts to a client, it charges a 1.5% fee. We launched a re­tire­ment an­nu­ity linked to a pas­sively man­aged unit trust for 0.4%,” ex­plains Wierzy­cka.

Her fam­ily fled com­mu­nist Poland, liv­ing in Euro­pean refugee camps, sleep­ing on hard bunks in crowded con­di­tions where men, women and chil­dren lived to­gether.

They ar­rived in Pre­to­ria in the 1980s where, “I had to learn English and Afrikaans quickly at Pre­to­ria High School for Girls. I was a stranger and was teased and bul­lied; it was mis­er­able.”

Wierzy­cka had one big ad­van­tage: maths and sci­ence, “be­cause in East­ern Europe huge em­pha­sis was placed on those sub­jects”.

Her fam­ily was re­ally poor so, at a time when in­sur­ance com­pa­nies were of­fer­ing bur­saries for stu­dents, she opted for ac­tu­ar­ial sci­ence.

At the Univer­sity of Cape Town, she traded her meal vouch­ers for cash, surviving on free bread and cof­fee, and ended up qual­i­fy­ing as a Fel­low of the In­sti­tute and Fac­ulty of Ac­tu­ar­ies (Ed­in­burgh, UK) in 1994.

She paid back her bur­sary be­fore join­ing Alexan­der Forbes where she started an as­set con­sult­ing di­vi­sion for its re­tire­ment fund clients.

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