Anet Ahern, Jeanette Marais, Fatima Vawda and Magda Wierzycka

To mark Women’s Day, Personal Finance approached four of South Africa’s leading women in the asset management industry, asking them about their own investments and what investment lessons they had learnt the hard way that they could pass on to you.


Anet Ahern, chief executive officer of PSG Asset Management

In what are you invested for your own long-term savings and retirement? 

The house I live in, balanced funds for retirement savings and retirement annuities, and equity funds or investments for any assets I have full discretion over. I invest only in our PSG funds, and my direct equity investments are mainly in our company’s shares. I have a tax-free investment as well, invested in our PSG Equity Fund. 

Are these investments performing to your expectations, and do you consider this the right asset mix in what may be a low-return environment going forward? 

I am very satisfied with the performance of these funds and shares. We may be going into a low-return environment, but you need to stick to growth assets selected by a capable manager to beat inflation in the long run, regardless of the environment.

What investment mistakes have you made in the past that you have learned from, and that could serve as a lesson to our readers? 

Underestimating the power of compounding, not taking a long-term approach, being impatient and not valuing the difference each contribution to growth assets (balanced or equity funds) can make, however small. My advice would be to get an adviser, develop a financial plan and start investing today. Start with a small tax-free contribution every month, and get used to the way the market fluctuates, and how your investment will grow over time. Every time you get a salary increase, try to add a little more to your monthly investments (or pay more towards your debt) than before, rather than spending it on non-essentials. Think of it like this: a good equity or balanced fund can return about 10% a year in the long run. R150 a month invested over 10 years at a 10% return versus buying a new top for R300 every second month could mean R30 000 in your investment account or 60 tops, most of them out of fashion by then.


Jeanette Marais, director of Allan Gray and head of distribution and client services

In what are you invested for your own long-term savings and retirement? 

I use a retirement annuity (RA) fund, with the Allan Gray Balanced Fund as its underlying investment. A good balanced fund, managed by a great manager, gives you complete peace of mind, because investment decisions are left in their hands. I supplement my RA with a tax-free investment account, which allows me to invest R33 000 annually and benefit from growth free of tax. About 40% of my overall portfolio is in offshore investments, to allow me to broaden my exposure and access companies and sectors that aren’t available locally, and to protect me from rand weakness. I also have a small investment in a money market fund in case of emergencies and unexpected expenses. 

Are these investments performing to your expectations, and do you consider this the right asset mix in what may be a low-return environment going forward? 

The current environment locally and internationally highlights the importance of having a long-term investment plan and a diversified portfolio. I have structured my portfolio for multiple scenarios, so I am satisfied that I am reasonably well positioned for a low-return environment. I’m not too worried about the short term. 

Diversification is key. In my balanced fund, the portfolio managers have many levers to pull to ensure decent returns. If they see potential in equities, the fund will have a larger equity exposure. When equities do well, they will cash in the gains and look to invest in other asset classes that offer potential. My offshore investments are in mutual funds (similar to unit trusts). I have handed over the tough stock-picking and asset-allocation decisions to the professionals. 

What investment mistakes have you made in the past that you have learned from, and that could serve as a lesson to our readers? 

I have made many investment mistakes along the way. Two important lessons for readers: avoid dipping into the cookie jar and avoid switching indiscriminately.

 Many years ago when I was changing jobs, I decided to cash in my retirement savings and use the money to buy a house. This seemed like the right decision at the time, but I didn’t fully understand the impact it would have on my retirement savings. My message to readers is to guard against dipping into your retirement savings when you change jobs, unless you absolutely have no choice. 

Another mistake is following my heart and not my head by selling out of an investment as it was falling. Acting emotionally, rather than rationally, meant I locked in losses. With hindsight, had I waited, I would have done much better.


Fatima Vawda, founder and managing director of 27four Investment Managers

In what are you invested for your own long-term savings and retirement? 

My long-term interests are aligned to those of my clients. I am therefore invested in one of our flagship retirement (regulation 28-compliant) portfolios, the 27four CPI+7% portfolio. The portfolio is 75% invested domestically with 25% invested globally. 

At an asset-class level, we have diversified exposure across equities, fixed income, listed property and alternatives. This portfolio can be considered aggressive, because it has about 70% exposure to growth assets such as equities.

Are these investments performing to your expectations, and do you consider this the right asset mix in what may be a low-return environment going forward? 

Domestic market returns were strong up to 2015. However, returns have been subdued since then. Over such periods, we have to remain steadfast in our views and look beyond the noise and short-term fluctuations. Retirement-fund investing is about long-term value creation. 

The low-return environment has been characterised by a vicious cycle of a lack of investment from domestic corporates, keeping return-on-investment contained. These corporates have exceptionally healthy balance sheets, with R1.4 trillion in cash. Returns over the long term will improve as the investment environment improves for the deployment of this cash, generating the expected level of return from a high-equity balanced fund. 

The global equity environment has already seen the manifestation of this as corporates have begun to invest, generating stellar earnings and supporting strong equity returns.

What investment mistakes have you made in the past that you have learned from, and that could serve as a lesson to our readers? 

We can’t underestimate the impact that quantitative easing and low interest rates have had on distorting market forces in the short term and how bond yields were driven lower despite deteriorating local fundamentals. 

We should have had more bonds and bond proxies, and the lesson learned is to be tactical in short-term allocations to take advantage of temporary market abnormalities, provided you are being paid to take on the risk. 

As invested as we are in our local political and economic situation, we are a small part of the global village, and the search for yield dominated everything else. This provided an opportunity to own high-yielding assets and at the time and we didn’t own enough.


Magda Wierzycka, chief executive of Sygnia Asset Management

In what are you invested for your own long-term savings and retirement? 

Most of my savings are invested in index-tracking funds and property. I have become increasingly aware of the havoc that high management fees wreck on your ultimate savings outcome and hence prefer to invest in broad market indices at a very low cost. 

My investments are well-diversified across funds tracking market indices representing different asset classes, such as equities, bonds and listed property, both in South Africa and internationally. I am also a great believer in the future success of companies involved in developing technologies; hence I have a substantial investment in the Sygnia 4th Industrial Revolution Global Equity Fund. 

In terms of owning property, I have always believed that it is a form of forced saving, even if it is not the best return you will get. Hence I own both residential property and some commercial property, which has the advantage of good lease income.

Are these investments performing to your expectations, and do you consider this the right asset mix in what may be a low-return environment going forward? 

I think that you need to consider all investment decisions as being long-term in nature.  Market cycles will come and go. I don’t switch my strategies in an active manner – I believe that if you have a well-diversified strategy with a tilt towards growth assets such as equities, and a significant exposure to international investments, then you will do well over the long term.

What investment mistakes have you made in the past that you have learned from, and that could serve as a lesson to our readers? 

The worst mistakes I have made is to dabble in direct share-trading based on “tips” from expert asset managers. Not a single one has ever worked out. There are no short cuts in asset management. If you do want to invest in shares directly, you need to do your research of the companies concerned. 

The second lesson is not to chase funds or investments that did well in the most recent past. Past performance is never an indicator of future returns – in fact, in most cases, it is a counter-indicator.

The final lesson is to be cautious of fads and bubbles. Right now, there is a bubble developing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Although there is the potential that more money will be made, there is also a real risk that the bubble bursts. On the other hand, when something so new comes along, it is also foolish not to at least look at it. But if you invest, invest a bit and adopt a watch-and-see approach.