Sonja Visser has extensive experience in the financial services sector, and is a regular speaker at micro insurance conferences nationwide. She is also passionate about financial inclusion in the South African market.
What did you study and what has been your career path thus far?
After obtaining an Actuarial Science degree with Honours in Econometrics, I completed a Higher Diploma in Financial Planning. I then worked as an actuarial assistant for three years and lectured economics at the University of Pretoria for two years before moving on to gain extensive experience in the financial services industry during an 11-year period (1997 - 2007) at Momentum and later the First Rand Group. I developed a keen interest in business development and the general functioning of an insurance company. I also became involved in marketing and sales. In 2008 I took up the position of Managing Director at Union Life, the insurance arm of the Doves funeral group where I was ultimately responsible for the management and financial soundness of the company. In 2010 I was appointed CEO of a specialist funeral insurance company, KGA Life, and in September 2015 I joined Africa Unity Life as Managing Director. In November 2016, I took on the role of CEO.
What would you say the highlight of your job is?
It is always exciting to see the company progressing to the next level. However, it is not only seeing the success within the business from a monetary perspective, but also from the point of view of the growth of our clients and their businesses. Seeing our clients flourish gives me a great sense of pride. The same works for staff as they take on more responsibilities and feel more empowered.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that’s helped you in your career?
Create an environment for active debate and innovation, and empower those around you to make decisions.
What would you say it takes to succeed as a woman in finance?
For both women - and men - to succeed, you have to be on top of what is happening in the financial industry. I believe it is vitally important to continuously refresh your knowledge of the industry, as well as the broader business environment in South Africa. For business success, you have to focus on continuous networking by building great relationships. This goes hand-in-hand with putting in those hours and working incredibly hard. Make sure you always strive to innovate and come up with fresh and better ways of managing your business. Finally, always maintain an exceptional people and client focus.
There is a perception that the finance sector can be a bit of a "boys club" - would you say you have experienced this stereotype to be true in any way in your career?
Not at all - I have never experienced this in my career. Both men and women bring excellent skills to the table. Women have a tendency to focus on detail, far more than men. For this reason I believe women are better in operational roles where a great deal of attention to detail is required.
What tips would you give to those entering the finance world?
Make sure you have a passion for what you do. Don’t do it without dedication and a passion for clients. Then, go to bed with a dream and wake up with a goal!
WANT MORE ’FEMMES IN FINANCE’? READ HERE:
Economist At Citibank - Gina Schoeman | Technical Analyst - Moxima Gama | Client Manager at Incompass Financial Solutions - Anja Du Plessis | Retail Client Service Consultant at Coronation Fund Managers - Kylie Janse van Vuuren | Equity Analyst at Avior Capital Markets - Janine van Wyk | Fund Analyst and Investment Specialist at Amity Wealth - Roné Venter | Private Wealth Manager at NFB Private Wealth Management - Mikayla Collins | Head of Strategic Markets at Allan Gray - Thandi Ngwane | Head of Direct Marketing Strategy at African Bank - Rachel Murove
Nicole Cameron is a features writer with over twelve years’ experience, focusing primarily on the business market with a niche focus on entrepreneurship. She has written on a variety of topics for Sharenet and is excited to be focusing on women in finance in her new monthly column "Femmes in Finance". She holds a Business Science degree from UCT and is passionate about reporting on the events and people that make up the local business landscape.