This Women’s Month SME South Africa will celebrate South African women entrepreneurs, pioneers and innovators. Join us as we highlight their successes, sacrifices and struggles. Follow the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at #SMEWomenInnovate.
Fatima Vawda is the woman behind South Africa’s first black-owned and women-run institutional multi-manager firms, she achieved this in one of the least transformed financial sectors – asset management.
Today her investment firm, 27four Investment Managers, brings in a turnover of over R80 million and she is regarded as one of the most influential figures in African asset management.
27four Investment Managers is a financial services company which competes with some of the country’s biggest asset management companies, including Old Mutual Investment Group, Sanlam Investment Management as well as Allan Gray, Africa’s largest privately owned investment management company.
The company was also the first black-owned and managed stockbroking firm to be registered as a member of the JSE.
“We were the first in South Africa to introduce a risk managed framework that allows retirement funds to balance their need of investing prudently with their transformation objectives to grow and to develop black asset managers,” Vawda says.
She is also the founder and non-executive chairperson of Legae Capital, an indirect subsidiary of Wiphold, and the first black owned and woman-managed fund of hedge funds in South Africa. Under Vawda, Legae Capital became one of SA’s leading hedge funds.
Vawda has garnered numerous accolades for her work in the sector. She was announced as last year’s winner of the EY’s Southern Africa World Entrepreneur Award in the Emerging category. She also won Best South African Multi-Asset Medium-Equity Fund 2016 in the Raging Bull Awards.
Vawda was raised in Lenasia, in the south of Johannesburg, by a single mother who sold samoosas to ensure that Vawda and her three siblings received a good education, she says in a City Press interview. She has a master’s degree in Applied mathematics and started her career as a lecturer at The University of Witwatersrand and later worked at various financial institutions, including Peregrine Securities before launching her first business venture, Legae Capital in 1996.
Because of her experience, Vawda is today one of the industry’s biggest advocates for transformation, speaking at many of the leading industry bodies including the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP).
She is hoping to help transform SA’s asset management industry where black asset managers handle less than 5% of industry assets, according to a Business Day article. One of the 27four-run initiatives aimed at helping to stimulate the growth of black firms and entrepreneurs in the sector is their Black Asset Manager Incubator programme.
“Since inception of our incubator 10 years ago we have supported a total of 30 black asset managers. This has had the resultant effect of democratising the playing field as well as introducing a new fresh breed of investment talent and promoting competition within the sector,” says Vadwa.
Vawda speaks with SME South Africa about surmounting the odds and what it will take to get black women in the forefront of the sector.
The financial services sector has often been described as a difficult industry to get into. What motivated you to get into the sector?
It was the nineties when Wall Street was hiring mathematicians, engineers and physicists and derivatives and the use of quants in finance was becoming mainstream. You can just imagine how exciting all of this sounded to someone from the township. I was hooked!
How was 27four Investment Managers launched?
So I broke away [from Legae Capital] and set up 27four Investment Managers. The name 27four comes from the [date] 27th April 1994, and it is a representation of change and transformation, and wanting to do things differently. I’ve focused on improving the percentage management by black investment professionals, and I’m glad to say that we’ve come as far as five percent of that number is now managed by black investment professionals, through some of the efforts that my team have facilitated.
As a capital intensive business, how did you tackle this challenge when you started out?
Having worked for ten years before kicking off 27four Investment Managers, I had built a savings pool as well as a network of relationships within the industry who supported my entrant as an independent.
With the growing number of investment firms in SA, what would you consider to be 27four Investment Managers’ unique proposition?
Our disruptive approach to revolutionising the South African asset management industry is best illustrated by our pioneering efforts to create long-term sustainable solutions that are designed to respond to the dynamic needs of our clients. Our strongest edge is our team followed by our ability to identify investor trends and devising solutions to meet that appetite. Being a first mover allows us to create barriers to entry against more slower corporate giants.
You mention on your website that the company does not “push product but instead focus on providing solutions” – why is this such an important part of your business philosophy?
Clients are generally weary of the tick box, one size fits all approach, particularly larger investors. Providing solutions that are relevant and searching for unique sources of return is what allows us to challenge outdated market norms. Our independence also allows us to act in the best interests of our clients.
Building a multi-million rand business takes a different way of thinking as an entrepreneur, what would you say is your biggest strength as a business leader in this regard?
Believing in the power of diversity. The diversity of our team is our biggest strength.
What were some of the most unexpected lessons you’ve learnt about being a female entrepreneur in this sector?
Our distinctive flair is a competitive advantage because we are responsive to customer needs.
How important is it for the industry and young female entrepreneurs to see successful female and black entrepreneurs in the financial services sector?
We need bright minds and lateral thinkers to bring about structural change to the sector. This can only be achieved through broader and active participation of both race and gender.
What challenges did you have to deal with as a female entrepreneur in the sector?
Gladly I have not faced any gender-based prejudice in my efforts.
What unique skills do you think have helped you the most to become successful in your business?
Always feeling uncomfortable and not allowing complacency to set in. Also, the ability to see things through and finish what I start.