Issue: March 2012 / May 2012


New broom

Sweeping change sought at the Institute of Retirement Funds. Goal is to make it the pension-fund industry’s representative voice, and to be proactive with the authorities.

Letjane . . . big vision

Letjane . . . big vision

Last year, when Shantha Padayachee was booted from the Institute of Retirement Funds presidency, sinister speculation of a political coup prevailed.

Her successor, Zamani Letjane, dismisses it. “The IRF was stagnating,” he shrugs.

Indeed it was. Apart from voluntary work by its legal and technical committee, overlapping with much of the same work by many of the same people in other fora, its impacts were less than obvious. It held an annual jamboree that paid for its office administration, and it needed the office administration to organise the jamboree. Similar speakers, similar topics and similar funders rotated from one retirement-fund platform to the next.

This is not necessarily to hang Padayachee as the scapegoat. The stagnation derived as much as anything from the IRF being embroiled in a power struggle over whom it represented. In the process, its clarity of purpose was lost.

Some, shouting the odds against domination by service providers, wanted it split so that there’d be a separate body for trustees only. Others, aware of the practicalities in terms of both financing and the need for cohesive inputs, fought the proposals of then Cosatu pension funds coordinator Jan Mahlangu.

Letjane was in the latter camp, successfully resisting Mahlangu’s pressure. Now he comes to the IRF leadership with a defined if ambitious consistency of vision.

“The IRF must become the unified voice of all the industry’s role players,” he insists. “We need to be proactive, proposing to government and the regulator what they should be looking at rather than mainly reacting to what they want us to look at. The stronger our unity, the better placed we are to take the lead in representing the wide variety of our members to government and the regulator on pension-fund matters.”

While he sees “nothing wrong” with a trustees-only body, he points out that at present there are well-functioning interest groups. Notable examples are the Principal Officers Association and Pension Lawyers Association.

“But we need a centre that can share expertise and offer a cohesive voice,” he says. That centre, he believes, should be the IRF. “We’re all concerned with better provision for everybody’s retirement.” He wants the industry to examine afresh “the catalytic role that the IRF can perform”.

Letjane, managing director of Akani Retirement Fund Administrators that he founded 12 years ago, started in the industry in 1985 as head of human resources and labour relations in the Midrand municipality where he assisted employees on the benefits being paid. He then realised that “there is much more to pension funds than contributing and receiving benefits”.

Since then he’s developed a long record as a trustee, a principal officer and an advisor. In between, he’s collected a few business-related diplomas as well as an MBA and is now studying towards an LL B.

What are first impressions, gleaned from an hour-long chat? He’s impressive, warm and articulate on ideas for the industry. He knows the goals he wants to achieve, and sounds determined to achieve them.