Investec Life head of finance says it's not often you get to help start a new insurer

Roxane Leita joined Investec Life only four months after the insurer was launched.

What has been the toughest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
“Setting goals is not something you do once off. It’s a lesson I’ve had to keep learning and I don’t think it’s an easy one to learn. You have a goal and you reach it, but it’s not the end of the road – you’ve got to celebrate it but then you’ve immediately got to decide, now that you’ve reached this, what it means and what’s the next goal. When I qualified as a CA and reached the end of my articles, I had to decide what to do with the rest of life in terms of a career. It’s a bit of a shock to the system. It was a seven-year journey to qualify – that was my goal. But there was no ticker-tape parade and I was left thinking, now what? You’ve climbed this peak only to realise that there’s another one. You do have to sit back and celebrate your victories though. Plan what it means and how you can use it to springboard into your next goal. You’ve got to take that and learn. Every time I’ve reached a goal, I’ve found I’ve had to deal with that again. So, I reach it, I celebrate it, and then I plan what’s next.”
 
What would you say has been the most difficult decision you’ve faced in your career?
“There have been a few. In each of the decisions I’ve labelled as being tough, the reason why I found them so was because it was a decision that made me move out of my comfort zone and I experienced growth – and growth is never comfortable. One of my most recent tough decisions was choosing to leave PwC after 13 years to join Investec. I left an associate director position there to be a CFO here. I had dealt with many CFOs but it’s different now being on the other side of the desk. But it was smoother than I thought, perhaps because I’d been in auditing as long as I had and dealt with a variety of CFOs and finance professionals over those years. I also had great support within the business, which helped.”


 
What prompted you to move from PwC to Investec?
“Investec approached me directly. I met with Michael Goemans, the CEO of Investec Life, and he laid out his vision for the company – this was a new thing Investec was moving into. He laid that out, along with where I’d fit in and what role I’d play in building this company, and I found that very appealing. It was what prompted me to make the change; to be part of something that was new. It’s not often that you get a new insurer starting up. To start something new with a great brand like Investec was exciting. So that was the decision. I had to assess where I was in my career at PwC, going from a role of comfort, where I had taken time to build up networks and experience, and jump into something completely new.”
 
And, how are you enjoying this new challenge?
“It’s different but also the same – there are core things I enjoyed about my job at PwC which I’m still doing here, although slightly differently. I have the daily challenges of a new and growing business, managing new risks that come up and assessing how to mitigate them, as well as new controls that must be put into place. There are constant new challenges coming up, such as tweaking products we’ve launched, and that’s what I’m really enjoying, the newness of it all. There’s constant discussion on how best to do things as the business evolves.”
 
You’ve been in the role since January 2018 and the business was new when you joined (launched in September 2017). What has your time in the role been like and what have you thus far achieved?
“It was a completely new role, which really appealed to me as you get to put your own stamp on things. We launched with a full suite of products but have been constantly enhancing these to meet our clients’ needs, such as our Severe Illness cover, making our products available on the Investec website and improving the online experience. So we are building the business while it’s business as usual, which makes it even more challenging. It’s constantly moving.

“I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve been able to on-board quickly (support from business was great) and run with the finance function. Because we are a start-up, we’ve tried to ensure that management is hands-on. We’ve also kept the team small, tight and agile. I’ve been able to make good use of the group finance function, as a lot of the basic functions I’ve been able to leverage off group. I think that one of the great things about being a small start-up in an established company is leveraging the support base."

Tell us in brief about your current role – is it focused more on strategy or day-to-day finance tasks?
“It’s a mix of both. My day includes getting new general ledger accounts open, all the way up to presenting to the board of directors. You get to touch on everything in the finance role and everything a CFO would be involved in, in a larger company. It’s a great mix and a good learning experience for myself. Also, because the management team is very hands on, everyone gets together to decide what gets done and how. It’s very collaborative.”
 
In your opinion, what is currently the most exciting aspect of the company’s strategy?
“We are big on the client experience. Our key focus is on how the client wants to interact with us, so that’s what we’ve accommodated for. We’ve considered, in this age of digital access, how does the client want to interact with us? Clients can do their own research and find what products they want. They can do a financial needs analysis online and purchase the product, all without ever having to speak to someone, if that’s what they want. If a client wants to talk to someone at any stage, we’ve got an advisory team that will provide full advice. We also have a client service centre. So, it’s flexible and you can interact with us in the way that you prefer. For me, that’s the greatest part of our strategy and I think also refreshing for a company in the digital age.”
 
As a young CFO, what makes you most excited when you consider the future of the finance industry?
“I’m excited about automation and where it’s going because I think it will mean that a lot of the routine transactions are going to be automated, which frees people up to do more analysis. I think this will make the turnaround time of giving financial information quicker and therefore more relevant. We’ll have access to greater volumes of real-time information which businesses can use to better inform their decisions.

“The flipside is that, when I studied and grew up in the manual finance era, you had to do many of the basic routine transactions and that’s how you built up your knowledge. New entrants in the industry won’t get that hands-on knowledge. I think that’s going to change how people prepare for a finance role. I’m still trying to get my head around how you prepare for this role, but I think it shows that you need to have a learning mindset and be willing to use the technology as it comes through so that you don’t become redundant or outdated. You must keep pace. It’s interesting, exciting and unsettling all at the same time.”
 
In your opinion, what makes a great CFO and how do you see the role of the CFO going in the future?
“I’ve always seen a CFO as a leader and with that comes the need to cultivate leadership traits. Big picture thinking with the technical knowledge to back all of that up. Standing back, looking over it all and saying, ‘What are the pieces of this puzzle and how do I bring this together?’ I’ve seen this in a lot of CFOs I’ve worked with – they sit and process the information very quickly. That’s been very impressive.”
 
What do you think is the toughest challenge facing finance professionals today?
“Managing various stakeholders’ expectations. Companies have lots of different stakeholders, and it’s tricky to manage all of those. Some stakeholders you’re in direct contact with, others via other departments or business units – like clients. I don’t deal directly with the clients, but you must enable others to manage those expectations. That’s where the skill of putting everything together cohesively comes in. But it’s a tough skill to learn because you have all these people pulling in different directions with different expectations.”
 
Have you achieved a work-life balance and if so, what does this look like?
“I tend to not like this phrase as it implies a 50:50 split at all times, which for me is unrealistic. I prefer work-life integration. I consider what needs my focus right now, and sometimes that’s work and sometimes that’s family. It comes back to what is my current goal. For example, at financial year end, I’ve got to dedicate more time to work. I’m a working mother and that has its own challenges. Sometimes everything falls into place and goes smoothly and other days not so much. I’ve learnt not to sweat the small stuff.”
 
What are your interests outside of work? How do you like to spend your free time?
“I run after my children – I have two boys aged two and four who keep me very busy. Weekends are spent playing Lego and reading Dr Seuss. There’s a lot of family time. I really enjoy travelling. I’ve taken my kids overseas a few times, as well as on trips around South Africa. I think it’s very important to expose them to different things and to see the world.”