AIFMRM and its funders continue to plug SA’s critical skills gap

On Donor Day 2018, AIFMRM received a visit from some of South Africa’s most prominent financial services providers – those that made the Institute’s growth possible – underlining the importance of collaboration between corporates and learning institutions in developing the industry.

Students were able to network and engage with alumni and established financial professionals, while sponsors had the chance to see first-hand the difference their donations had made in developing much-needed skills.

“Everything we do at AIFMRM is 100% dependent on the support that we get from a group of prominent companies in the financial services sector,” said AIFMRM Founding Director David Taylor.

“They showed faith six years ago when we were starting with a dream. Now we have 14 PhD students and four Postdoctoral Research Fellows. Thanks to their support, we have gone from zero to well-established very quickly.”

South Africa has struggled to plug a critical skills gap in the finance sector. The National Skills Fund, part of a national drive to develop skills across the country, does not include finance development projects. The finance sector, after the IT sector, was identified as one of the areas most in need of skilled professionals. In January 2018, international mobility group Xpatweb ran a survey reporting that 75% of companies in South Africa were seeking scarce skills, such as financial specialists, abroad.

All that is changing, thanks to growing investment in financial skills development. In 2017, AIFMRM celebrated receiving R10 million over five years jointly from Old Mutual and Nedbank, which joined several other major banks and insurance companies in supporting the Institute. Other major donors include Absa, FirstRand, and Liberty, with Sanlam joining as a new donor in 2018. Meanwhile, the Banking Sector Education and Training Authority (BANKSETA) contributed over R5.25 million in bursary funding for AIFMRM in 2017.

Growing support from across the sector is a recognition of the need to continue developing highly skilled finance professionals, believes Taylor – and AIFMRM is a crucial part of that. “It is very important to have an appreciation for our funders,” he said.

Several alumni from AIFMRM, now working at major funders of the institute, underlined the relationship between corporates and tertiary institutions in developing the financial sector.

Daniel Maxwell, now a financial engineer at Rand Merchant Bank, told students that being “in demand” was a motivator for studying at AIFMRM, but that ultimately the impact was far greater. “It’s a unique opportunity to study something stimulating, challenging and practical,” he said. “However, as you start working, you see that alumni from the MPhil and MCom are well entrenched in the South African financial market.

“Even though South Africa is a developing country, it has a very sophisticated financial market. AIFMRM will continue to produce graduates that drive this sophistication,” he said.

Boiketlo Mphahlele from Nedbank’s Markets team added that fostering a network of highly skilled individuals via AIFMRM was an important part of growing the financial community. “It’s not just about your qualification. AIFMRM wants you to grow holistically. You get direct contact with anyone coming to recruit – and use that opportunity to engage with people and gain insight,” she said.

Speakers also noted the attributes needed to help the finance sector thrive. In addition to the value of a network of skilled financial workers, Thabo Siko from Liberty emphasised the importance of developing more detail-oriented professionals. “Attention to detail is an excellent skill I picked up from AIFMRM besides finance and maths,” he said. “This, besides the network I now have, is the most valuable resource, and makes things easier because people trust in the brand.”

Ndinae Masutha, a 2016 MPhil alumnus working at Old Mutual, spoke of the need for outstanding problem-solvers. An astrophysics graduate, he said he was drawn to the programme because “we solve problems – and I am here to solve problems”. In asset liability management, he uses his research skills to identify and troubleshoot potential problems.

Dirk van Heeswijk from FirstRand said the most crucial part of a study programme was its applicability. “What we study in the (AIFMRM) course is applicable – we use it every day,” he said.

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