Thursday, October 29, 2020

Gender Balance is key to strong COVID-19 financial services leadership


As we celebrate women’s month in South Africa, we caught up with Tlalane Ntuli, Chief Operating Officer at Yalu. She tells us all about Yalu’s financial services and how they assist individuals in the event of death or retrenchment. Ntuli also highlights the importance of gender equality in the finance sector and motivates young women who are passionate about the financial sector.

Yalu aims to teach consumers that there is a credit life insurance which can cover their debt repayments should the recipient find themselves faced with retrenchment, disability or death that they can claim from.

It’s been three years since Yalu has been launched, what were the objectives of the launch?

Yalu was established to offer consumers new ways to understand, manage and pay for their Credit Life Insurance (CLI) policies. South African consumers don’t understand CLI very well. A lot of people don’t even know they have CLI policies or aren’t aware of what premiums they are paying every month. We started Yalu to change this and to help South African families manage their credit lines in a more sustainable way.

Following the passing of a family member, how did you deal with the burden of settling his debts?

My father had a CLI policy in place to cover his debt, my family fought to pay off the balance owed to the lender. Only after the transaction was settled did they realise they could have claimed on the CLI policy. I already had a lot of financial sector experience, so the business opportunity and its relevance to South African communities were immediately clear to me. Nkazi (CEO of Yalu) and I decided we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to help South African families protect themselves better when they use credit, with saving money on premiums a key part of the offering.

Have you always been interested in Finance?

Not at all, I got into financial services by chance actually. When I completed my post-graduate diploma at UCT, I headed back home to Lesotho where my parents were based. All I wanted to do at the time was secure any job I could find. I got offered a role as a Marketing Officer at Nedbank Lesotho and that’s really how I got into Financial Services. I made many attempts in the early years of my career to change industries but never managed to – little did I know this is where I would end up.

This month we celebrate the significant role of women in Mzansi, PWC’s 2019 Executive Director’s Report states that the JSE is dominated by male executives. How can we make sure that there is gender balance in the finance sector?

This is a long-existing problem and one that will not be solved easily. Women in far more developed economies with less complex histories than ours are still facing this problem. For me solving any problem starts with admitting that there is a problem.

While reports like this are good at highlighting the problem, they have not changed the perception held by many of the males sitting in those executive roles that there is indeed a problem. Many of them believe that they can window dress the problem by appointing one or 2 females in the non-strategic roles on their executive committees and that not only fixes the problem it means they deserve a pat in the back for “doing the right thing”.

The starting point is for women to stop being viewed differently from men if I walk into a room and the first thing people see is that I am a woman before seeing a capable individual then we are not any closer to solving the problem. Women are not asking to be treated differently or given special concession, they are asking to be seen as individuals period. By trying to force organisations to appoint female executives we are only putting a plaster on an open wound.

We should be making this change at grassroot level with our children. Teaching our boy children that they are not superior and our girl children that they are equals and not inferior. This is not a sector problem, it’s not even a workplace problem, this is a societal problem that manifests itself it different types of gender discrimination and at its worst comes out in the Gender-Based Violence that we have seen our country in particular struggle with.

Does gender equality in the financial space, play a role in effective leadership during such challenging times?

Definitely, Gender balanced leadership is central to the recalibration to making sure we’re not only coping as an industry but thriving. Our team has a strong gender balance at the executive level and is positioned to make widely informed progressive choices.
Strong leadership during a pandemic doesn’t just involve protecting client relationships. It also requires active management of the health and welfare of the company family. Interacting with South Africans from all walks of life requires a balanced perspective in the boardroom, especially in times of crisis, when entire families and communities are seriously impacted.

You need the ability to listen well, but also to act quickly and decisively. Everyone is justifiably very anxious about the situation, and employers have to be able to lean into these emotions and work with staff to take actions that provide physical safety and emotional reassurance.

Women are known to be ‘overspenders’ and people who are not afraid to take credit’ if you could advise women about taking up credit, what would you say? What should they focus on and what should be avoided?

There are a lot of misconceptions about women and finances, this is one of them. In the past research has actually shown that women are the main decision-makers when it comes to how money is spent in the home, particularly on major purchases – this certainly denotes that women are in fact quite responsible where money is concerned.

We also know that many women in South Africa are members of various stokvels or societies. Stokvels and societies are considered powerful saving vehicles in the South African economy and we are seeing the emergency of products that are specifically targeting these groups. At Yalu 51% of our customer are male and 49% are female with the males having the higher credit balances than their female counterparts, another indicator that it is not necessarily factual to say women are more reliant on debt.

With that said, there are many women and men alike who struggle with managing their credit. Credit is a tool that can be used to acquire assets – good credit, but it can also be used incorrectly and end up having adverse effects on consumers – bad credit. This first question one should answer when taking up credit is, therefore, is this “good credit” or is this “bad credit” if it’s the latter then think twice before committing yourself. The second consideration is whether you can really afford the credit. While the bank can grant you credit on the basis of what they see on paper, that is not always your reality, its important for one to be honest about their circumstances and not take more than they can stomach.

What is the significance of financial services company like Yalu during COVID-19 pandemic?

Yalu’s positive impact on the local economy became even more important when COVID-19 sparked a major economic contraction in South African lives and businesses. Sudden retrenchments have been a feature of the current slowdown, with many borrowers struggling to meet their monthly repayment commitments. Consumer education has always been a big part of what we do, but since COVID-19 the need has grown.

We’ve been in constant communication with the clients impacted by COVID-19 retrenchments. Not only do consumers need to understand the basics of how to make CLI claims, but they also need to understand the ramifications of opting for a debt-holiday, a choice that should only be made once all other options have been explored. We have been very active in helping people understand their choices, including what these will mean for their financial lives in the long term.

If you could advise young women who want to follow the same path as you, what would you say to them?

I would say more than anything else work hard and focus on making your vision a reality. I was one of the lower performers amongst my classmates in high school. I was told by some of my teachers not to bother applying to universities and rather consider a less academically inclined qualification or career, but that did not fit into the plans I had for myself and my dreams, so I worked harder than anyone I knew. In my tertiary years while everyone else went out on Fridays to party, I stayed at res and worked, while everyone slept on Saturdays, I woke up and worked, while everyone didn’t bother showing up for lectures, I attended lectures and worked.

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