Q & A | iMasFinance celebrates Africa Day reflecting on business in Africa
The 25th of May marks Africa Day – an annual celebration that commemorates the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963. The OAU subsequently evolved to what we know today as the African Union (AU), with its vison of “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”
As a proudly South African organisation, iMasFinance continually strives to make a valuable contribution to the growth of local industries and business in Africa. Eddie Brandt, National Manager: Group Brand Ambassador at iMasFinace shares his views on the future of business in Africa as well as the many challenges local businesses face and how they manage to overcome these challenges and even thrive despite trying times.
Please provide a background of what iMasFinance does and as well as an overview of your national footprint?
Eddie Brandt: iMasFinance is a credited financial services co-operative that has been around for over 80 years. Our co-operative business model makes us unique in that we have agreements with corporates across South Africa to offer their employees financial products and services. This includes vehicle finance, personal loans, pension-backed home loans, educational loans, long and short-term insurance products (offered through our wholly owned subsidiary Iemas Insurance Brokers) as well as a purchase card that can be used for everyday shopping. In addition, our customers (referred to as members) become a part of our business and get a share in our annual profits through our loyalty programme iMasRewards. We have a national footprint with 27 branches across South Africa.
What do you think is the future of business in Africa: are there any new business trends or developments to look forward to?
Eddie Brandt: At the moment the fastest growing sectors are Agriculture, Telecommunication, Finance and Banking, Infrastructure, Oil and Gas. As the need for transport increase due to better job opportunities in urban areas, the automobile industry is also growing and with that the need for affordable housing. Solar Power is also a sector that is becoming more and more important as sustainable power is becoming a challenge especially in highly populated and urban areas.
From your close working relationships with big corporates in South Africa, what would you say are the main challenges that local businesses are currently faced with and how are they overcoming and even thriving despite these challenges?
Eddie: From our engagement with senior management at corporates that we have an agreement with, it is clear that the last two years have been tough on everyone. Rising costs means that businesses are under more financial pressure and in many cases have to stretch their workforce that have become smaller due to restructuring. I would say that a lot of companies are investing in their workforce through training an upskilling as well as allowing employees to be more flexible by working from home.
How can employers still implement employee benefits especially during a time where employees have been exposed to salary cuts, retrenchments and adapting to working remotely?
Eddie: At iMasFinance we invest in our own staff compliment through employee wellness initiatives such as our employee wellness hotline and we also have workshops where we empower our staff with skills that they can apply in their work and personal lives. These workshops focus on work-life balance, emotional and physical wellbeing as well as assist employees with setting and reaching their goals. We also offer financial wellness workshops at our employer partners and to our own staff. I would encourage employers to invest in the personal wellbeing of their employees as this affects all areas of their lives, including their work performance.
How does iMasFinance support corporates to empower and financially educate their workforce?
Eddie: As I have mentioned, we offer financial wellness workshops at corporates that have agreements with us. These workshops are aimed at empowering employees to live financially well by applying basic financial principles such as budgeting, managing debt responsibly and saving on a monthly basis. We offer these workshops free of charge to all employees at our employer partners. In addition, our loyalty programme, iMasRewards, is designed to financially employer our members through quarterly pay-outs as well as a reserve fund on which our members earn annual interest.
What, in your view, are the main developments in the local financial services sector and how will these developments impact the future of financial services in South Africa and Africa as a whole?
Eddie: In my opinion, the two main developments are digital enablement and financial inclusion. Managing your finances at any time from anywhere has become the norm. However, financial services have to be accessible in rural areas as well – that is why we have recently invested in the revamping of our regional offices so that we can service our members better in the areas where they work and live. Major banks have also expanded their physical presence in the last few years by opening more regional branches.
As part of the AU’s Agenda 2063 ‘sound, sustainable financial inclusion’ is essential to building shared prosperity and eradicating poverty – what is IMasFinance’s position on financial inclusion?
Eddie: Our slogan ‘Your caring financial wellness partner’ speak to exactly that – we care about our members and their communities, that is why we focus on providing financial solutions that meets their unique needs. As I mentioned, our members become part of our organisation through our profit share model, giving them the opportunity to become a part of something bigger. Our products are designed in such a way that we are accessible to all income groups, whilst delivering on our promise of being a responsible financial lender which is also why we invest in financial wellness – to empower South Africans to live financially well.