Pursuing a higher purpose

The first black African female actuary Ndivhuwo Manyonga finds herself pursuing a higher purpose as CEO of FEM. She shares some insights into her journey

Ndivhuwo Manyonga, CEO of the Federated Employer’s Mutual (FEM) Assurance Company, became a true South African pioneer when she obtained her fellowship in 2005 as the first black African female actuary. The first step towards her destiny was attaining a Bachelor of Business Science Degree (Actuarial Science) and a Post Graduate Diploma (Actuarial Science) from the University of Cape-Town (UCT).

After a series of 16 gruelling exams, she was finally inducted as a fellow of the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) in a qualification that is known for its high attrition rate.  Little did the young Venda ingénue know that she would make history in a male-dominated profession and open the door for other black African women.

In the footsteps of women like Manyonga, almost 300 women in South Africa are now actuaries and the number of black females among them is growing steadily.  Manyonga recollects that she was a 16-year-old matriculant when she ventured into this uncharted territory.

Her main concern was to harness her sterling academic proficiency in choosing a profession that would provide financial freedom for her and her family. Initially, she gravitated towards medicine or chartered accounting. Thanks to her Grade 11 mathematics teacher, Mrs Maganbhai, who identified her aptitude for numbers, Manyonga met her appointment with destiny.

Reluctant pioneer

Not one to fly the flag of her remarkable achievement, Manyonga is quick to point out that she only became aware of her pioneer status while writing her final board exams. When asked if she is comfortable with the label of “pioneer”, she replies: “How do I embrace something that was not a deliberate decision on my side?

“It was not an objective. In fact, even when I qualified, it was not the limelight I was seeking. I am an introvert and did not want the publicity. Over time I saw the interest around me in a positive light. I realised that my journey could hopefully be a platform to influence others. Sometimes you underestimate the impact you have just by being you,” Manyonga says.

Along with numerous qualifications, Manyonga has also garnered awards from the Actuarial Women’s Committee (Woman Pioneer in the Actuarial Profession 2012) and the Association for South African Black Actuarial Professionals (Achiever’s Award 2011) among others.

An impeccable career trajectory

Manyonga’s career trajectory is just as impressive as her qualifications. Building upon her academic foundation, Manyonga assumed her first professional tenure in 2002 as an actuarial assistant with her academic sponsor for her last year at UCT, Old Mutual. From then onward she would be catapulted into various actuarial science roles.

Over the past decade and a half Manyonga has cultivated impeccable experience as a risk consultant, consulting actuary, deputy CEO, executive head of employee benefits and CEO at companies such as Old Mutual, Aon South Africa and now FEM.

In addition to her corporate roles, Manyonga developed her entrepreneurial skills and diverse work experience in actuarial concepts, employee benefits, retirement funding, and investment strategies. She wanted to add value to organisations through consulting and board participation as a non-executive director.

Manyonga enhanced her career footprint, as a self-employed independent actuary in the financial services industry. Key clients at this stage were the Presidential Working Group on Women and Old Mutual South Africa on their joint Financial Solutions for Women initiative, which is aimed at economically empowering South African women through the provision of appropriate financial solutions.

A different environment

Manyonga was headhunted by FEM in 2017 – a position she holds to date. From a landscape of international, multinational, listed companies, shareholders and board members situated in different countries, Manyonga is now enjoying a less complex and more centralised decision-making structure at FEM.

“Coming from mainly profit-driven industries and joining an entity that is a mutual, I quickly saw that I am in a very different environment with a different impetus,” Manyonga notes. “Rather than profit, efficiency of delivery is the driver at FEM.

“From an underwriting perspective, the mutual still must break even and remain conservatively capitalised, but the shareholders in this instance are the construction industry employers who are our policyholders. Income generated from employer premiums is ploughed back into a compensation structure for their injured employees and rebates are paid out to policyholders for exemplary health and safety practices, as evidenced by a lower claims experience,” she adds.

A higher purpose

In addition, Manyonga has fervently adopted FEM’s motto of passion and compassion for clients, particularly the injured employee and the beneficiaries of their compensation outlays. She says: “The construction industry is one of the largest employers in the economy, it is also a high-risk industry. There is a high number of low-income earners who are also likely to be bread-winners with multiple dependents.

“This means that when an accident occurs in the line of duty, which results in injury, all effort needs to be made to pay the claim speedily, so that the worker can get the necessary medical attention, be rehabilitated and return to their much-needed job. In the worst-case scenario, where a death occurs, we need to ensure that the beneficiaries receive their compensation timeously for continuity of income,” Manyonga explains.

She is careful to note that even though she is steering the ship at FEM, she is only one of a team.  Through FEM, Manyonga finds that she is serving a social purpose, entrenched in the South African Constitution, with respect to facilitating the basic rights to social security for employees and their dependents, when they unable to support themselves due to a work-related accident.

When considering the 8 000-odd reported accidents per annum across FEM’s policyholders, she is aware of the people whose lives are affected. “Most of these workers have no alternative career options, moreover when they are injured,” Manyonga elaborates. “It’s imperative for FEM to fund medical services and provide compensation as soon as possible for the injured employees can’t afford a gap in ability to earn income.”

Manyonga is often disheartened that FEM can only step in when health and safety has failed, when someone has become vulnerable, or in the tragic eventuality of death. “It’s about empowering employees to access benefits, but also about engaging with employers who are not compliant,” she says.

“If need be, we report those employers to the Department of Labour for underreporting accidents, where they will suffer penalties for non-compliance,” Manyonga adds. Therefore, effective compensation is ensured by both employers and employees.

Founded in 1936, FEM provides specialist insurance cover to construction companies and their employees against injuries or illnesses contracted in the workplace. The company is mindful of the fact that when employees are injured, they need to have the assurance that their benefits and medical bills are paid out speedily. For more information about FEM, visit www.fem.co.za or contact 011 359 4300.

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