WOMEN'S MONTH PROFILE: Thandi Ngwane, head of strategic markets at Allan Gray
Born in Durban, Thandi Ngwane studied law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she obtained her BSocSci LLB LLM.
She completed a leadership programme at Duke University and did a general management programme at Harvard Business School, both in the United States. She also did a short course on property development and investment at the University of Cape Town.
Ngwane is also a Certified Financial Planner professional, having obtained her Postgraduate Diploma and Advanced Postgraduate Diploma in Financial planning through the University of the Free State.
She began her career at Old Mutual in 2003, where she held the positions of legal adviser and marketing consultant in its personal financial advice division, and legal and compliance officer in its bank division.
In 2008, she joined Allan Gray. Her first position was in distribution as a business development manager. She held a number of roles in distribution and was head of Allan Gray’s Private Clients division.
Ngwane subsequently took up her current position as head of strategic markets. Her job focuses on finding ways for more South Africans to participate in wealth creation and to make engaging with large financial services firms less daunting.
She says she chose to work at Allan Gray because it was a completely different opportunity. “It was not in my area of expertise and was outside my comfort zone,” she says.
“I enjoy working with ordinary people who want to build a better financial future for themselves and their families, and thinking about how what we do as a business has the potential to change their lives.”
Ngwane says the biggest challenge facing women is gender-related stereotypes in industries that have traditionally been male-dominated. Financial services is one such industry.
“Stereotypes can be along gender, racial or cultural lines. What might appear as a gender-related stereotype can be overlaid with a whole host of biases. Many of the gender-related challenges are often subtle, unconscious biases, and these can often be overlaid with gender-role expectations. For example, I was often asked to take minutes in meetings early in my career,” Ngwane says.
She says there are many opportunities for women in the financial services industry. “The industry would benefit from more women in executive positions because there is poor female representation at board level. We need more women providing independent financial advice and making investment decisions as portfolio managers,” she says.
Ngwane says women should not sell themselves short in terms of their value and should keep bringing their diversity of thinking to the industry. “There is also the need for companies to be more deliberate and support high-performing women, as this will help direct them towards senior leadership positions.”
Regarding the gender pay gap, Ngwane says a contributing factor is the reluctance of women to push and negotiate for higher salaries. “This affects how much women are paid at all levels of the corporate ladder. Women are often held to a higher standard than men, and businesses are willing to take a risk on men, whereas women have to prove their worth first,” she says.
Ngwane’s top five financial tips for women are:
Start investing as soon as you can;
Have a bank account, investments and a retirement annuity in your own name;
Seek professional financial advice and have your adviser draw up a customised financial plan for you;
Get involved in your finances – do not leave financial decisions to someone else; and
Set up an emergency fund and commit to investing to it via a monthly debit order.