Investec Specialist Bank CFO Marlé van der Walt: "I thrive on change"

On 8 March, International Women's Day, Investec South Africa launched its "Women on the Rise" campaign, highlighting its relationship with women in business, education and sport. As part of the launch, Investec introduced the public to its newly appointed Specialist Bank CFO Marlé van der Walt. CFO South Africa spoke to her about her finance leadership experiences.

Marlé is not only an expert in growth and transition; she has also been serving in CFO roles since the tender age of 26. She chatted to Caylynne Fourie about her experience in the worlds of work, life and motherhood.

What is your professional and academic background?
I started my articles with PwC in Durban in 1999, after doing Academic Articles (lecturing) at the University of Stellenbosch for a year. I did a regulatory audit on a new client (BOE Bank at the time). That got me into Financial Services and made me a banking regulations expert. In my third year (second year with PwC), the audit manager left, which instantly made me the resident banking specialist. 

I took up the manager role on the audit, which was my first break. Just over a year later, BOE acquired a listed entity on the JSE doing unsecured lending and approached me to become the CFO for the business. I was 26 at the time. It turned out that it was a struggling business, which landed me my first “turnaround” CFO role. I remember the person who appointed me said: “I am sorry Marlé, we sold you a lemon”, to which I responded: “Don’t worry, I am putting on my CV that six months here equals two years’ experience.” 

Fast forward, we lived through the run on the bank at BOE. Nedbank acquired BOE three months later, and we turned the unsecured lending business around in three years. I also picked up the risk role for the division in this time and during the Nedbank restructure was then offered the role as CFO: Nedbank Retail Banking Services in Johannesburg, transforming and consolidating all the finances for the retail franchises and brands within Nedbank. I was 29 at the time.


 
You are known as something of a Basel expert. How did that come about?
Barclays
offered me a role to set up a technical audit function at their newly acquired subsidiary, Absa. This involved giving assurance over risk, finance, compliance and especially the new advanced Basel models that they were implementing at the time.  It involved building an entirely new team of specialists from the ground up.

In 2010, I joined Investec as the chief internal auditor, where I was responsible for designing and driving new standardised methodologies and systems globally. For the past six years, I was the CFO for Private Bank, while simultaneously leading the Basel IRB programme. We have significantly grown the Private Bank franchise and profitability over the past six years.
 
There’s a great story about how Investec recruited you. Please share it with us?
Investec
recruited me while I was pregnant with twins. At the time, I was a mom of three kids under the age of two years old – my son and twin girls are 20 months apart. My first interview was five days before the twins were born and Investec then met with me at my home three times after the twins were born to conduct further interviews.
 
Some people find change unsettling, but you seem to have built a career on it. How do you feel about change?
I love being part of transforming businesses. I thrive on change and have the ambition and energy to drive business forward. It is extremely rewarding to see the transition.
 
What is your vision for your role? 
Investec recently held a Capital Markets Day, where we announced our three-year targets. We have a great franchise and an even better business. My vision is to make sure we deliver the goals we have set and exceed them. Having been involved in many business growth stories, I will play an active and influential role in strategic decision-making, analysis, measurement and reporting in reaching these targets. 
 
How do you feel about being a woman executive in a typically man's world? 
Having served in leadership roles and on executive committees from a very young age, I have never felt that I was treated differently to men. Maybe I was too naïve to realise it when I started. I always received a lot of respect, acknowledgement and encouragement from my male counterparts. However, to this day, I still count the number of women and people of colour when I walk into a meeting room. I think that when it comes to issues of diversity (gender and race), I have a responsibility to speak out with passion and energy to ensure the minority voice is heard.