A day in the life of a Chief Investment Officer (CIO)

30 August 2021 Sonja Saunderson, Chief Investment Officer at Momentum Investments
Sonja Saunderson, Chief Investment Officer at Momentum Investments

Sonja Saunderson, Chief Investment Officer at Momentum Investments

Now is probably one of the most interesting and rewarding times to be in investment management: markets are tough to navigate, consumers are demanding increasingly more value-for-money portfolio solutions, and the landscape is getting more innovative and competitive by the day.

In this environment, being the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) at a major investment firm means being able to continuously evolve and challenge oneself, to deliver value for our clients. At the same time, we have a responsibility to transform our industry to be more representative and build teams and cultures that are enticing and pulling the best talent.

Given that broad description, I am often asked what a typical day looks like for me as a CIO. The simple and quick answer is that my days – fortunately! – vary, which keep things interesting. Still, there are some elements that I try to keep consistent for the most part.

Research and investment decisions

I interact a lot with fund managers, banks, stockbrokers, academia and other service providers in the industry on a daily basis. This is to ensure we do thorough research and have informed insights into what is shaping the industry, what the market dynamics are, and how that should influence our investment decision-making.

It also affords us the opportunity to work with the smartest and most experienced talent in South Africa and globally, when it comes to research and insights. This enables us to ensure that we make the best decisions within the context of creating successful outcomes-based portfolios for our clients.

On other days, I spend my time internally making decisions based on our research, modelling and forward-looking insights for the benefit of our client portfolios. We need to formulate views according to our processes and position portfolios for the future. We also assess where we may have made mistakes and where we need to change our strategy and thinking. It is always amazing to see the different talent and perspective in the investment team in these decision-making forums! It is really dynamic and energetic, and challenges us frequently.

Interacting with clients

I feel lucky that my job doesn’t keep me away from clients. Often throughout the week, I get to spend time with clients, giving them feedback, understanding their requirements, and being responsive to their needs. We need to ensure our portfolios are optimally structured and our offerings are relevant and competitive to clients, which is why taking the time to really communicate with them is essential.

Staying up-to-date with emerging trends and developments to understand how our clients are evolving is just as important as staying updated with emerging trends and developments in the investment industry. The combination of both of these elements is how we ensure that our investment decisions remain relevant in a very dynamic environment.

Managing and strengthening the team

Part of a CIO’s responsibility is to build teams that are diverse and differentiated enough to offer our clients something interesting and unique in terms of investment advice and decisions. Understanding people and team culture is an important part of this.

I am constantly on the lookout for skilled professionals who can add value to our dynamic team. Passionate people inspire me. People that want to make a success of things and who want to make a difference in the world. People who think differently, have a set of principles they firmly believe in and act accordingly.

I see myself as an enabling leader: I like to promote staff and colleagues around me to be the best that they can be and allow them to flourish. My role is to set the direction and the big picture plan, but others colour in the picture with their own creativity and ideas. I therefore, rely on a team of talented people who are also leaders in their own right.

And that, in a nutshell, is my vocation. It is something meaningful that has given me so much fulfilment – which is why I believe that more women need to enter this line of work. My most important advice to young women is that they need to work hard and learn as much as possible. Be strong enough to have a set of principles that govern your ethics and thought process but also be humble enough to admit when you are wrong, don’t know or have made a mistake.

Quick Polls


Do you believe this is the toughest period for financial advice in many years?


Yes, it’s hard to navigate the challenges and difficult to adapt. I’m struggling.
No, I have managed to navigate the challenges and have adapted. I’m good.
50/50. I just feel like whether we like it or not, we have to ready ourselves for change… be resilient and scale for the future. It’s not about survival of the fittest anymore but survival of the quickest. We just have to move on with life.
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