Colleen Wagner: Putting the CFO’s touch into practice


After 12 years at Sanlam Investment Group, learning from the company’s CFOs, Colleen Wagner was ready to take the next step in her career and become a CFO too.

Colleen Wagner, who has recently taken up a CFO role, believes there is always the need for a CFO’s touch: from renovating a building to other projects, the CFO needs to see the costs going into the spreadsheet as well as the return on investment.

Colleen was with Sanlam Investment Group for 12 years, starting as a financial manager in 2012 before progressing to head of consolidated reporting. It was time for a change and she moved over to a company within the Sanlam Investment Group, Satrix, where she is now CFO. Satrix is one of South Africa’s leading providers of index-tracking investment products and exchange traded funds (ETFs).

Explaining her reason for moving, Colleen says: “Because of my role in the central finance team, I’m familiar with the company. However, as a separate but also well-established brand, it will provide new learning opportunities for me. I’ve always admired the Satrix business and its commitment to democratising investments and promoting financial inclusion. This was a really nice opportunity for me to actively be involved in driving that strategy.”

Moving to Satrix meant that Colleen gets to bring her diverse experience in her current role to bear. At Sanlam Investment Group, she was one of the financial managers that reported to the CFO, which exposed her to various strategic projects within the business.

“What I really like is that it gave me exposure to all kinds of projects that I might not have been involved with had I not reported to the CFO,” she says.

As she integrates herself into the CFO role, she takes with her the experience that held her in good stead. Colleen’s previous work environment was one in which there was a flat structure, everyone’s input was valued, and there was always a sense of responsibility. That gels with her leadership style in terms of offering colleagues an open door.

Knowing what is going on with her team members’ lives is also key to her leadership style. “I’m very interested in the person behind the work colleague. People have many aspects to their lives over and above what you see in the work environment, and that has an impact on how they operate at work. It is also a way of acknowledging that people’s lives outside of work are just as important.”

To achieve this, Colleen makes a point to discuss her team’s career aspirations and how they like to be managed. She believes it is important to know whether they like to be micromanaged, or whether they are happy going it alone. At the same time, she wants to know personal details, including information about their children and hobbies, to enable her to find something in common with each team member.

“I try to find some common ground with everyone that I work with. And that, in my experience, is very often not work-related.”

Using these soft skills allows her to understand exactly where the person is at.

Colleen also enjoys mentoring, focusing on skills as well as skills advice, especially when it comes to helping CA trainees. “I enjoy that mentoring process as I feel that it benefits me as well. Becoming a CA involves a lot of hard work and late nights, but I do like to relay the message to trainees that qualifying was one of the bigger highlights of my career. It has opened many doors for me and provided me with countless opportunities to expand and grow my skills. I like to emphasise that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve it.

Supporting local businesses is also something that she tries to do whenever possible. “When I find a good cause, I try to donate as much as I can.”

Colleen’s career in finance started back in 1999 when she worked as a bank teller at Standard Bank while studying. She later took up tutoring part-time at the University of Cape Town and completed her articles at KPMG.

She worked in the UK for four years at Barclays Wealth, which she and her partner – now husband – saw as an opportunity to travel. After returning home to get married, they went back to the UK, where they had their first child.

The Wagners, who now have three children between the ages of two and 12, returned to South Africa, where they have a strong family support structure. Colleen’s husband is a business consultant who works across companies, but is currently also working at Sanlam in a different unit.

“My life, at the moment, revolves around our kids. When I do have free time, I read, or I watch a movie. I also enjoy dining out with some good food and wine..”

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