FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE | MIW
by Andrew Ngozo
While there may seemingly be a mountain of challenges for the sector, Nienaber is positive about emerging markets and Africa in particular, and says that both are still bursting at the seams with potential for those entities that are willing to export their expertise while simultaneously respecting local cultures. “Key for South Africans will be to ensure that they have well-balanced and diversified offshore portfolios,” she emphasises. Nienaber shares that, as Standard Bank Private Clients, the organisation is always challenging itself to be better, with the interests of the clients ahead of everything else. “We are currently working on offering our clients a global financial solution, one that will assist them through many generations in retaining family wealth and leaving a legacy,” she reveals. Standard Bank Private Clients provides end-to-end wealth management and bespoke banking and lending solutions to individuals who typically have the potential for investable assets in excess of US$1-million.
A history lesson on Nienaber’s life, especially her career life, shows that mentoring has been a vital aspect of her progressive climb up the ladder of success. Her mentors, she points out, instilled in her a culture of surrounding herself with people who are better than her at what they do. “I enjoy working with teams that reach a level of honesty where everyone can speak their mind in direct, yet respectful, ways,” she says. It is no surprise that she is a stickler for detail and for “making sure you do everything to the best of your ability”. Nienaber’s career spanned a number of senior positions within the short-term insurance industry before she made the switch to banking. She started her career as the chief financial officer (CFO) for Hannover Reinsurance in Africa, after which she was appointed managing director of Compass Insurance. She was the first woman to be appointed to the board of the South African Insurance Association and the first female president of the Insurance Institute of South Africa. She was also the first female executive at Santam Insurance in its 90-year history and occupied board positions at a number of listed and unlisted companies in the short-term insurance industry in South Africa and abroad.
She leads a team of over 500 people and firmly believes that the key to keeping it together and successful is to ensure that it is made up of a great variety of personalities and skills, of people who have the ability to disagree and have healthy debates around important issues – something that is no mean feat. She adds: “Diversity is not limited to gender or race. Diversity is about allowing people with different thinking styles to contribute to the conversation, and about respecting their views; it is about allowing people to challenge your thinking.” As a leader, Nienaber says she is privileged to work with a team of passionate people. It is at Standard Bank Private Clients that, she believes, she has come full circle and experienced her major career highlights to date. “To contribute in such a company, which is filled with talented people, gives me a great sense of accomplishment. The team at Private Clients is making a difference for Standard Bank, an institution that does not believe in mediocrity,” she points out.
The mother of young twin daughters believes that her responsibilities have not by any means stopped with her recognition as the most influential woman in the financial services sector in South Africa. More still needs to be done, and Nienaber is up for the challenge to empower fellow women. “I hope that I will always be a positive influence and that I can empower my daughters, my support system at home, the community and my colleagues,” she says. Having had the opportunity to be empowered, she maintains that her next goal is one that has been, and will continue to be, a lifelong one. “My challenge in life is to allow the people around me to believe in their dreams, and I myself hope to find a balance between work and home and concomitantly have a positive influence on my family.” In saying this, she notes that Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in a person’s life are the day the person is born and the day they realise why they were born.
The adage, ‘no man is an island’, rings true in Nienaber’s life, both personally and professionally. She reveals that she has always been inspired by people who are authentic in what they do and who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe to be the right thing to do. One such person, she mentions, is her husband, and “I have also been blessed to be surrounded by many such individuals in the work space. My parents taught me from a young age that, ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’.” Nienaber concludes: “The financial services sector has done well in empowering women and I believe it is no longer unusual to see women in senior positions. My wish is for everyone to be true to who they are, and for women not to be caught up in a world where they believe they have to behave like men to be successful.”
Motivated by Making a Difference
In uncertain economic times for the financial industry, the financial services sector is easily the one that bears most of the brunt of ensuring a navigable path to recovery. Margaret Nienaber, chief executive officer (CEO) of Standard Bank Private Clients (South Africa), is a vital cog in the mission for economic recovery.
The winner of the 2013 Most Influential Women in Business and Government Award (Financial Services Sector), Nienaber believes a nimble approach to business is key for future sustainability of the sector and South Africa. “The financial services sector has been through a lot of turmoil since 2008, and the end is not yet in sight. It is, however, a robust industry that is full of innovation and is built on a strong foundation,” she notes. She adds that, in the light of recent events in South Africa, in addition to adopting a more nimble approach to business, there is also the onus of ensuring that, “at the same time, we rebuild and earn the trust of the consumer on a global basis”.