An in­dus­try mover and shaker

Sygnia’s rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing the ‘dis­rup­tor’ among its in­dus­try peers has paid off with a se­ries of in­no­va­tions

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Corporate Report -

Sygnia CEO Magda Wierzy­cka is not al­ways pop­u­lar with other as­set man­agers. This is not just be­cause she heads one of the fastest grow­ing busi­nesses in the in­dus­try — but be­cause she has bro­ken the un­spo­ken rule of not crit­i­cis­ing com­peti­tors.

Wierzy­cka has not been afraid to speak her mind on prac­tices that she be­lieves are not in in­vestors’ best in­ter­ests. She has been par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of un­nec­es­sar­ily com­plex prod­ucts, and the high fees that they charge.

Her out­spo­ken­ness has alien­ated a num­ber of her peers, but she is un­apolo­getic. She says The Sygnia lead­er­ship team, clock­wise from top left: Magda Wierzy­cka – chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Si­mon Peile – head: in­vest­ments, Niki Giles - chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, An­drew Steyn – head: client ser­vices, David Hufton - head: strate­gic projects, Willem van der Merwe – Sygnia Se­cu­ri­ties CEO Clay­ton Chris­tensen the in­dus­try has been cry­ing out for dis­rup­tion.

“It is about bring­ing sim­plic­ity back to a ser­vice propo­si­tion that has be­come too com­plex and mak­ing it ac­ces­si­ble and un­der­stand­able to the av­er­age cus­tomer,” Wierzy­cka says. “It is about of­fer­ing fairly priced prod­ucts which do not have lay­ers of fees un­der lay­ers of com­plex­ity. And we have the tech­nol­ogy to achieve sim­plic­ity and con­ve­nience at an af­ford­able price.”

His­tory of in­no­va­tion

Sygnia has been a dis­rup­tor since its be­gin­nings in 2006. Its first prod­uct was an in­vest­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion plat­form that took on the ex­ist­ing mar­ket by of­fer­ing in­vest­ment strat­egy cus­tomi­sa­tion and cost trans­parency.

This is a theme that the com­pany has fo­cused on ever since — bring­ing down costs while in­tro­duc­ing sim­plic­ity, con­ve­nience and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

“The fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try in SA has re­mained largely un­af­fected by change de­spite the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis,” Wierzy­cka says. “The same play­ers, the same prod­ucts, the same high and of­ten hid­den fees, are all com­pet­ing for the same cus­tomer. This has left the field wide open for some­one to come in and up­set the status quo by, lit­er­ally, low­er­ing the costs, im­prov­ing the prod­uct propo­si­tion, bring­ing more trans­parency to the in­dus­try and sim­pli­fy­ing ac­cess.”

Be­com­ing a dis­rup­tor

Wierzy­cka says the theory of “dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion” was for­mu­lated by Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor Clay­ton Chris­tensen in the 1990s.

His ar­gu­ment was that dis­rup­tors in­tro­duce in­no­va­tions which “make it so af­ford­able and sim­ple that nor­mal peo­ple can do what only the rich and very skilled could do be­fore”. She says this means that dis­rup­tion and in­no­va­tion are not the same thing.

“All dis­rup­tors are in­no­va­tors, but not all in­no­va­tors are dis­rup­tors.”

“Tra­di­tional com­peti­tors fight each other, of­fer­ing the same prod­uct to the same tar­get mar­ket,” Wierzy­cka says.

“Dis­rup­tors, how­ever, do not com­pete against other sup­pli­ers. They com­pete against ‘non-

Magda Wierzy­cka: chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer

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