Meeting Jennifer Grefen, Executive Head of Retirement Funds, NMG; Chairperson of the FIA Employee Benefits Committee

  • Q: How did you get involved in financial services - was it always something you always wanted to do?
  • A: I have always wanted to be involved in this dynamic industry and more specifically the retirement arena. I find it gratifying to know that the work done in this space has a positive impact of many people and enables individuals to make appropriate provision for themselves and their family. My dad struggled with his health and had to retire relatively early so I am aware of the impact that this can have should adequate cover and planning not be in place. I am very passionate about financial services because as an industry we have the ability to make a positive impact of people’s lives.

  • Q: Are you comfortable with the pace and focus of retirement reform in SA?
  • A: In general I am supportive of the Treasury initiatives to create a safer financial services environment and to simplify the environment in which we operate. It also makes sense that clients are provided with appropriate information and guidelines to ensure that they make appropriate financial decisions at different stages of their lives. However I do believe that there will always be a place for good, appropriate advice to assist clients with their decisions. Good advice is – well – priceless! We have seen substantial changes brought about by virtue of the various pieces of legislation promulgated over the past few years. This has far reaching effects on the retirement funding industry and its members. Customer protection initiatives such as TCF ( treating customers fairly) are welcome because they serve to place the end customer at the focal point in all product, servicing and distribution decisions. Much of the industry is still putting in place the comprehensive framework to ensure that the six TCF outcomes are effectively attained. The Taxation laws amendment act is effective from the 1st of March 2015. It creates a uniform landscape for the tax exemption of all retirement fund contributions and also provides a uniform annuity requirement for all new monies paid into a provident fund after march 2015, whilst protecting vested rights. I am broadly supportive of this change, but like most providers, and advisers, we are consulting with our clients regarding the implications. In some instances the changes require a review to individuals’ financial plans and to the employers’ payroll systems. As an industry we are eagerly awaiting Treasury’s discussion documents as set out in their recent road map. We should soon receive the FSB’s RDR review as well as proposals on default provisions on resignation and retirement, the enhancement of preservation upon withdrawal, compulsory membership of all formally employed employees and minimum cost disclosure requirements. Broadly these proposals are in line with Treasury’s objectives of broadening the savings net, increasing savings, increasing preservation and increasing the governance of the retirement landscape; but as with most things, the devil is in the detail.

  • Q: What is good about the retirement savings industry in SA and what can we do better?
  • A: We have a robust retirement savings industry, but there are certainly areas where can improve. We should, for example, review the manner in which we disclose fees to ensure that the client is able to understand what it is that they are paying for. In the retail environment there is common understanding as to the concept of a TER (total expense ratio) and perhaps that is something we need to further explore in the group environment.

  • Q: Skills in the industry - are we growing these or is it an area we really need to focus on?
  • A: We need to think about how the industry attracts, nurtures and develops young talent. When I joined the industry (as a young and impressionable newcomer) my perception was that it offered glamorous and sought after career opportunities. We seem to have lost some of our ‘shine’ where recent graduates are concerned and that is something that we have to work on.

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