Spearheading the collective voice

01 February 2008 FAnews

FAnews spoke to Di Turpin, Chief Executive of the Association of Collective Investments (ACI), and discovered a multifaceted and talented individual, with a passion for the collective investment industry.

Where did you start your career?

In the banking industry. It was excellent experience – not so much about financial services but in people management. Facing clients for seven hours a day is a real leveler. I was on a trainee management programme, so I learnt a lot about managing staff too – who usually knew a lot more than I did about banking.

Do you have a role model?

Both Gill Marcus and Maria Ramos stand out for me. They always appear to be completely committed, technically strong and able to lead from the front. They are not scared to challenge others either. Rebecca Malope, South Africa's queen of gospel and our Fundisa champion is an amazing example of what can be achieved by having the right attitude to life. Apart from her professional achievements as a singer, she taught herself to read and write as an adult and has never allowed herself to be held back by her disadvantaged background.

What have been your most significant personal and professional achievements?

Achieving a balance between work and home. My family is all important to me, but it has been wonderful to have the latitude to pursue a challenging career as well. My husband deserves full credit for his support, and the ACI Board which offered me a job at the ACI. They were prepared to look beyond the fact that I was pregnant and in Cape Town, when the offices are in Johannesburg. I know many other companies and Boards would not have been as flexible.

On a pure work basis, the recognition that the collective investments industry has achieved in the last few years, particularly as a potential direct offering in the retirement space, has been greatly rewarding.

What do you consider your strengths to be?

The ability to get along with most people. I am fairly good at selecting high calibre staff. I like people who can think and act for themselves. An empowered team is a happy team.

What provides you with the most satisfaction in your work?

Seeing collective investments being recognised as the best way to create wealth. It's been a long time in coming but policymakers and members of the financial services industry acknowledge this. We still need to do more work in educating ordinary South Africans.

You are in a high-profile position. How do you effectively manage family and career?

By having a great back-up team. At work, Charmaine Soobramoney, our General Manager, seems to be able to read my mind and is always one step ahead of me. She is a great support and on top of it manages the office and staff in Johannesburg.

I think most members of the industry would also recognise that the ACI has an excellent team in place, which makes my life, and Charmaine's, a lot easier.

At home I could not do it without my housekeeper Jeanette Tobi, who fills gaps in all sorts of ways. Anton, my husband, jumps in with moral and physical support. I also have a sister and some really great friends, who get me out of trouble every now and then.

Your outlook on the collective investments industry as 2008 unfolds?

For years now, and despite a surging bull market, collective investment clients have been investing at increasing rates but cautiously through balanced and fixed interest funds. They are therefore quite well positioned for the current market volatility. Collective investments will continue to play a larger role in the retirement product market and this is healthy for the industry as the money is longer term than much of the voluntary investments that are made.

It seems that markets are in panic mode. How badly do you think this will impact on fund flows to the industry in the next quarter, and for the rest of 2008?

I suspect that we will see slightly subdued new flows as financial advisors attempt to gauge which way global markets are going to go this year. We should see fewer new companies and funds coming on stream as asset managers and brokerages deal with client concerns and lower equity market returns.

What would you say are the most significant successes achieved and challenges faced by the ACI?

The collective investments industry is now on the centre stage. The combination of the industry's characteristics and focus on accessibility, flexibility, transparency, protection and regulation have certainly helped raise awareness and interest. Many initiatives by the industry, such as the voluntary introduction of Total Expense Ratios, have contributed to the increased support for a product that is trustworthy.

Launching the Fundisa fund, which rewards investors for saving for education, has been a huge achievement for our industry in terms of raising the living standards of less fortunate South Africans. The industry did this by putting aside their differences and collaborating: building low cost solutions and making contributions to start the bonus pool, alongside government.

We do still have a few product oriented challenges on our plate however. We need to align our local legislation with UCITS III, the regulation governing much of the collective investment space in Europe, to ensure the local industry can remain globally competitive and that our foreign members are able to operate under our domestic legislation.

Hedge funds have been a subject of debate for many years, in particular whether retail funds should be incorporated under the collective investments schemes legislation. The broadening of the legislation to incorporate parts of UCITS III probably makes this more attainable in the medium term.

And of course, the retirement fund reform process is probably the most important challenge facing our industry. We believe that in the case of collective investments it also offers the potential for exciting new opportunities.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting a career in the collective investment environment?

Read, read and read. A relevant tertiary qualification is always useful. Be prepared to start from the bottom up – it's the best way to learn about the business and remember there are many elements to the business, from asset management to administration, marketing and legal interpretation. As long as the individual is numerate and willing to soak up information and then apply it, they will do well.

When talking business, are men from Mars and women from Venus?

Of course ! I think men and women bring very different skills to the table, and combining them generally works in the interest of the company. One has to be careful not to generalise about what those skills are – one of the toughest people in the broader industry is a woman!

Our industry is on the whole fairly well represented at middle management levels but I don't get to see nearly enough women at senior level.

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