Interview with Lizelle van der Merwe, new CEO of the FIA

CN&CO recently sat down to have a chat with the incoming CEO of the FIA, Lizelle van der Merwe. Well known in the industry, Lizelle has big plans for the organisation.

First of all, a massive congratulations from CN&CO on the new appointment. How are you feeling about it?

Thank you, the appointment by the FIA was a long rigorous process however, I’m excited to be on board. I feel it is a massive opportunity, the positive response from the industry has reassured me that together we can drive the organisation to new heights.

So it has taken roughly four months for the selection process, how long then is the appointment for and what do you want to achieve by the end of your tenure?

There is no set term as the position is permanent however, there are defined key performance objectives which require my focus over the next 12 – 36 months. The performance objectives are aligned to the strategy which comprises of 5 key strategic pillars. These include more effective representation and influence, improvement of communication (both internally and externally), enhancing the level of professionalism and support (to our members, policy holders and industry stakeholders), retention and growth of the membership base and transformation and market development.

As you mentioned, a lot of work has gone into understanding where the FIA is now and where it can go to improve, so where is FIA now?

The FIA is currently in a financially sound position however, it’s membership base is not increasing. The value proposition needs urgent attention and forms an integral part of the strategy going forward.

Tony Jardim, the chairman of the Protea Branch and his team have been working hard to elevate the standard and content of FIA seminars. FIA regional representatives such as Ian de Jongh has introduced broker power sessions supported by product partners. A big thank you from my side to the FIA team and its volunteers for their commitment and initiative to drive us forward.

Would you care to elaborate a bit more on that topic or how you aim to achieve better communication?

As a member serving organisation, we need to consider how to cope with increased member demands with little budget to increase for extra resources. We will soon be engaging with our members and industry stakeholders to suggest improved communication methods through the most appropriate medium taking into account the different membership types. Communication must be more effective and closer to real time. Progress reports on the key strategic initiatives as well as financial updates will be included in the communication strategy.

With regards to our brand and marketing initiatives, these are also under review. We appreciate we are living in times where social media plays a key role in assisting members to feel included and enable them to participate.

Earlier you mentioned cooperation with other industry bodies. Why do you believe that is necessary?

As mentioned, representation and influence is a key strategic pillar of the FIA. By strengthening our relationships with industry stakeholders, we can work towards common industry objectives which aims to build a sustainable industry that serves consumers, supports transformation and takes accountability for skills development and transfer of knowledge. Our industry is fragmented and through collaboration and co-operation, we can achieve the desired outcomes in a more cost effective manner.

The roadmap for improving the FIA (and industry) will obviously rely on working with people and developing relationships. This is something you are very familiar with having cut your teeth in the sales environment in the financial intermediary space.

Absolutely, we need to continue building relationships across all levels of the industry and this ultimately comes down to people. My previous successes were built on my ability to listen to understand, find solutions and preserve relationships. During the selection process, one thing that struck me was the amount of good, qualified people out there who are willing to contribute towards make a difference. The support from our members and the industry at large is a reminder to me that there are expectations and I have set the standard.

The FIA of the future will look like what, according to you?

An effective organisation that delivers maximum value to its members in an affordable and modern way. Leveraging technology to improve our sphere of influence regardless of geographical location. The FIA of the future will play an instrumental role in the transformation of brokers and the industry at large.