The new chief of the Association for Savings and Investment SA (ASISA) has had some big roles in asset management. In his new job, he’ll get to share his passion for investing in a country that desperately needs to fix its economy

“It is difficult for me to speak about myself in a way that explains who I am,” says Busisa Jiya. “I am a person who prefers to deliver on what needs to be done rather than reflect on things that brought me to where I am.”

It’s a noble sentiment, even if it’s not exactly what you want to hear during a media interview with the new head of the Association for Savings and Investment SA (Asisa).

It turns out that quizzing Jiya about his background is about as easy as convincing an insurer to settle a claim of someone caught driving while under the influence.

“I sometimes think that one limits or defines themselves through speaking about their background. I am more of a forward thinker, although I am very proud of my upbringing. My parents were first generation university graduates. With a limitless view of the world, I am a child of the world … believing in global opportunities.”

Certainly he didn’t want for education opportunities. Jiya did his primary schooling at the historically rich Lovedale College, an education missionary institute established in 1841 on the banks of the Tyhume River in Alice in the province of the Eastern Cape.

Those who have come through the ranks at Lovedale include the 19th century composer and priest, Tiyo Soga, erstwhile pipe-smoking President Thabo Mbeki, Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko and many other leaders.

His parents were uncompromising on quality education, so after Lovedale, he was sent to the prestigious Woodridge College in Gqeberha, which was founded during the Great Depression. “I am blessed to have been born in the family that I have – in pioneering education, in pursuing equal opportunity and being inexcusably bold, believing that there are no restrictions, everything is possible,” says Jiya.

Born in 1971 at the Victoria Hospital in Alice, Jiya grew up in the house of erudite academics who lectured mathematics and physics at the University of Fort Hare. It was perhaps no surprise that after school, he studied for a Bachelor of Business Science in Economics and Actuarial Science at the University of Cape Town.

Asked why he chose this route, Jiya said it was his effort to merge business with academia. He enjoyed methodical subjects such as mathematics and science, which he had grown up with, and actuarial sciences fitted squarely into that.

“At the end of my matric, I wrote down on a piece of paper all the professions I considered would appeal to my character and my desire to make valuable contributions for people who are in need,” he says.

It ranged from architecture (which he saw as providing security of housing), medicine, and actuarial science. In the end, he reckons actuarial science was the right choice. “I am fortunate to have started a career in an industry that appealed to me from the start. I have not looked back since.”

After university, he joined the financial services sector, and has been involved in asset management for about a quarter of a century. “There is a famous saying in asset management that if, after three months, you are still standing, then you may be suited to it … It implies survival in itself is an achievement.” It is, however, an all-encompassing industry, and doesn’t suit those who figure you can switch on at 8am, and clock out at 5pm.

His first job in 1996 was at Standard Corporate Merchant Bank as an equity analyst. Later on, as he moved up the ranks, he was appointed MD of Absa Asset Management.

But there were a number of senior roles along the way – including senior company officer of Thomson Reuters for Africa; Reuters News Ambassador (a role in which he got to promote the African continent in the context of the global economy); and principal officer of the Eskom Pension and Provident Fund.

Jiya says that part of the attraction to asset management is the ability to identify talent in the form of a company, invest in it, manage the risk of that investment and create value in the long run.

As the new boss at Asisa from February this year, he’ll have more than enough scope to promote this ideal.

“By creating a portfolio of investment instruments in companies that create value, you bring value to yourself. And that is what attracted me to asset management,”

– Busisa Jiya

A long to-do list

He takes over from a doyen of the profession, Leon Campher, who will be retiring later this year after a 49 year stint in the investment industry. During the handover period, Campher would serve as co-CEO with Jiya, to ensure a seamless transition.

Campher was critical to building up Asisa, a non-profit organisation founded in 2008. It represents most of SA’s asset managers, collective investment scheme management companies, linked investment service providers, multi-managers, and life insurers. Collectively, Asisa’s members speak for assets of between R7-trillion and R8-trillion, which indicates how significant a contributor to the local economy they are.

Jiya says Asisa’s role goes further; its mandate is to ensure the investment industry remains relevant and sustainable. And part of this includes promoting a culture of savings, while contributing to economic transformation and inclusion.

“The opportunity I have with ASISA is without boundaries,” he says. “I have the ability to draw on all our members [for] what needs to be done for our industry.”

There’s obviously plenty to do – SA isn’t a country renowned for its high levels of savings, nor its financial literacy. But his advocacy role also includes promoting transformation across gender and race, which will hopefully expand the scope of the investment industry itself.

He’ll be reporting to a board of about 20 highly skilled directors who are themselves leaders in the industry, but with very different ideas. Some, for example, favour free markets with less regulation, while others vocally support transformation and inclusion in SA’s financial sector.

Jiya takes-over at a heady time for the country, with Covid having exacerbated an already-bleak jobs and economic crisis. As it is, SA’s unemployment rate, according to the expanded definition of unemployment, sits at a woeful 46,2%.

And for the investment industry itself, there is the spectre of a rise in fraud. In 2021, for example, SA’s life insurers reported 4,287 fraudulent and dishonest claims worth R787.6m — up sharply from 3,186 cases worth R587.3m the year before.

Yet industry leaders have expressed a resounding belief that Jiya is the right person to lead the charge on this front.

Sello Moloko, a financial services veteran and now chair of Absa, says he is confident that Jiya will do a great job. “I met Busisa in 1991 when we both did our actuarial studies. He initially struck me as a disciplined, hardworking and shy, yet personable individual. The attributes of discipline, dedication and integrity have carried him far in his career,” says Moloko.

He’ll need all of these characteristics, given imminent changes in the retirement industry. With big changes looming at national treasury – given the departure of director-general Dondo Mogajane and changes to the role of deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat – Asisa will also have to develop new relationships.

THE ARTICLE IS FROM THE JUNE-AUGUST 2022 EDITION OF TODAY’S TRUSTEE