Image courtesy of Old Mutual

With divorce rates as they are, women need to prioritise and celebrate their independence, particularly when it comes to their finances, because surrendering your well-being to your partner is both irresponsible and unfair. This is the view of Elize Botha, the managing director of Old Mutual Unit Trusts. 

In the #MeToo era, women have become more outspoken about their needs and wants, but Hollywood has indoctrinated us thoroughly to expect men to take charge: that the man must pay, or that a modern-day knight will rescue us in a sports car. As a result, many women don’t take charge of their lives and expect to be saved. It’s the Cinderella Complex, first described in 1971 at the height of the second wave of feminism, but still deeply ingrained. It’s also hugely destructive.

Botha believes women need to start taking better care of themselves: “It’s unfair to expect that of a man – it’s about a partnership. We should not wait for a man. You’re not someone’s better half – you’re a whole person.”

Botha entered the financial services sector soon after completing her LLB. “I was passionate about being a lawyer, but when I started working at a law clinic, I realised I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life,” Botha says.

Instead, she started working in operations at a financial company, by helping to load policy documents and running the payroll. Six years later, she had moved up to head the retail operations department. “This happened merely by chance, as I needed something to pay the bills – and I realised LA Law was not going to be a fixture in my future.”

The discipline and analytical thinking she gained from her legal studies proved to be invaluable to her new career path, but as a newcomer to the industry, she had to do much of her training on the job.

“Law teaches you a certain way of thinking that’s very beneficial to finance. I started out in admin, where I realised I was passionate about clients. They’re not always clear about products, so I wanted to make sure we spoke to them in a different way.”

Twenty-odd years later, Botha has directed retail and institutional distribution teams at some of the country’s biggest financial institutions. She’s passionate about making investing more accessible to all South Africans, particularly women, and is an advocate of female empowerment and supporting women in business. 

She’s furthered her leadership studies in France at Insead, had international exposure to the financial sectors in Europe and the UKnited Kingdom, worked locally for Alexander Forbes, Momentum and Ashburton, and now heads Old Mutual’s Unit Trust division, where she oversees the financial, operational, distribution and regulatory aspects of the business. 

In her youth, Botha dreamt of becoming a teacher. Today, she’s made it her mission to unpack the abstruse financial sector for the layperson.

“My job, where possible, is to educate. The industry needs to admit that ordinary people don’t understand the jargon. It’s up to us to make it more accessible and to transform. It’s essential for us as a country. If you don’t transform, you resort to group think. Statistics show you can run a better business if you have more women in leadership.” 

Botha, a keen runner, believes in going the distance in all things. When it comes to investing, it’s critical, because you need to know how to behave when markets don’t. She warns against listening to the noise on the sidelines, because “things will happen: Donald Trump will say something, the lira will tank, markets will lose value, but things usually eventually recover”.

The message is simple: don’t panic. “The moment there is volatility in the market, people want to switch, which causes real value destruction. You need to be in it for the long term. Markets will fluctuate. If you continue to chase the highest asset class or fund, you will destroy the value.”

And you don’t need loads of money to invest: for a few hundred rand, which is forgoing one dinner out, you can invest in your future self. Don’t wait, though – start as soon as you can, she says, cautioning against chasing fads.

“The moment something new comes about, such as bitcoin, everyone wants to buy it. But technology, albeit brilliant, isn’t always a great investment. Look for a well-diversified fund. Avoid quick-rich schemes. Only by relentlessly pursuing your goals, will you achieve them. Stick to it. And don’t continuously run in all directions.”

[email protected]