The love for numbers not only shaped Poloko Masitara’s growth but set her up for a highly fulfilling career culminating with her appointment as CEO of Alexander Forbes Botswana.
“I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I will strive to be the grittiest” – this is an inspirational quote that Poloko Masitara draws out from the book “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance” by Angela Duckworth.
This is one of the books that Masitara is currently reading and quite profoundly the kind that would have one smarting up from a mishap to fight once more until they win.
Key part of the message from this book, Masitara declares – it is not talent that helps some people thrive, rather a blend of passion and persistence which amounts to “grit”. This is as much a lesson to others and embodiment of what has made Masitara to pursue her dreams without pausing.
From an early age, she was a Maths whizz-kid. The more she worked on the numbers, the more she fell in love with them.
“I was very good in Maths from a young age and I enjoyed it as well. As I grew older, the love grew as well, and I gained so much pleasure from solving complex Maths problems hence the decision to pursue a career in Accounting was an easy one. Alexander Forbes was always one of the organisations that I wanted to work for as I built up my career hence when an opportunity presented itself, I went for it,” she declares.
On her year two at the University of Botswana, she was awarded the best Second Year Motswana Bachelor of Accountancy Student Award, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers. “That is where my journey with the Audit Firm started. Following that, I completed my internship with them at Year 3 and when I completed my Degree, they took me in as a Trainee Accountant. This is where my Accounting career started. Whilst at PwC, I enrolled and completed my professional qualification, ACCA and obtained invaluable experience required in the Accounting field through my exposure to varying industries and clientele, as an Auditor. I was with the firm for six years,” says Masitara.
She is a proud holder of Bachelor of Accountancy (BAcc) from the University of Botswana; Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA); Certificate of Proficiency – Short Term (COP).
She joined Alexander Forbes Risk Services – a subsidiary of Alexander Forbes Botswana Group at the time that specialised in Insurance Broking services – in 2010 as Finance and Administration Manager. A few months later, she was promoted to Assistant General Manager – Finance and Administration – a position I held until December 2011. Her rise to the top continued. “In January 2012, I joined Alexander Forbes Financial Services as the Financial Controller until December 2018 when I was promoted to Managing Director for Alexander Forbes Financial Services and CEO for the Group, having acted in the position for eight months,” she says.
Alexander Forbes position
Her road map for the company that has operated in Botswana for over 20 years is well spelt out.
“Our vision is to be the advisor of choice for clients in securing their financial well-being for a lifetime. We therefore provide solutions to clients that are tailored to their specific needs depending on the point they are at in their life journey, whether it is a fresh graduate, a young career man/woman, planning for retirement and post retirement. We also take care of your beneficiaries in the unfortunate event of your departure from this world, through our Alexander Forbes Trust, ensuring that they receive the best care,” Masitara declares.
The Group, she says, has grown from a staff complement of five with three retirement Funds under its administration to a staff complement of 84 currently and 24 retirement Funds including the Umbrella Fund with over 160 participants.
“We have under our employ the best trained employees that are dedicated to servicing our clients which has differentiated us from our competitors as we continue to provide best advice and service to our clients,” she enthuses.
The financial sector has faced headwinds in recent years – yet Alexander Forbes has continued to thrive. This she attributes to international presence of the Group that has enabled them to have access to a wide range of expertise which has enabled the local operation to be innovative in solutions brought to market.
This, she says, has resulted in our solidified presence in the market which has enabled us to continue being the trusted partner by our clients. “Our focus going forward is to solidify our advice led model and provide holistic solutions to clients as we assist them accumulate, grow and protect their wealth. This means offering more than just Retirement solutions. The next growth for the organisation is in the retail space, focusing on Individual members over and above our traditional corporates,” she says.
In five years, she would want to have an Alexander Forbes that would have expanded its core business of consultingg, administration and actuarial to leverage synergies and scale opportunities, client retention, growth in new business and product diversification and a digital and diversified organisation.
Critical to achieving their mission would also be enhance the AF Online while also launching a new customer centric system that is aimed at enhancing administration platform; maximise on system capabilities and automation to improve efficiency.
Alexander Forbes, like other companies, has had to contend with the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. They quickly reviewed their business operations to ensure that they mitigate effects of the pandemic while safeguarding customers’ investment.
“Following COVID-19 being declared a world emergency in January 2020, we reviewed our BCM plans as a business to ensure that we are able to service our clients adequately. By the time this was declared a pandemic by WHO in March 2020, followed by the country lockdown on the 3rd of April 2020, we were ready as a business to continue servicing our clients remotely. Connecting with our clients visually has been paramount and we have been able to attend to their needs using platforms such as MS Teams, Skype and BlueJeans,” she declares.
She hails her organisation as an equal opportunity establishment where all employees have a chance to grow professionally. “Women are given equal opportunities to compete for progression and recognition in the organisation and our policies guard against any discrimination against women and vulnerable groups,” Masitara assures. But how easy was it for her to rise in the often male-dominated work place? “The main challenge that I had to overcome in my career was competing equally on the back of raising a family as a woman. When your male counterparties retire at the end of the day to a home cooked meal, as women we have to prepare that meal and tend to the children and still have the energy to deliver at work the following day. I managed all this through the support of my husband who is actively involved in the raising of our children,” she answers.
She advises female employees to always see themselves as equals to the male counterparts in the workplace. Work hard and earn your place, she declares, nothing is handed out on a silver platter. “The hardest battles are given to the strongest warriors; perseverance will see you through it all. Lastly, you can achieve all that you set your mind to, as long as you focus long enough on the goal and map strategies to achieve it”.
She spends her free time mostly with family as they are normally very busy during the week with work and school. “Weekends and holidays give us an opportunity to spend together and catch up on what has been happening during the week. I am also actively involved in charitable work through the Foundation that I co-Founded with my husband, Masitara Foundation, focusing on the needs of children and vulnerable groups,” she says.
Her most recent family vacation was to Cape Town, South Africa in December 2019. Her son had flown in from UK after two years where he is studying. This vacation, she says, is mostly memorable to the whole family as it gave us an opportunity to spend time together before our lives changed post COVID-19 being declared a pandemic.
“I have been happily married to Robert Masitara, former Member of Parliament, for 18 years now and have been blessed with four children, three daughters and a son. Education is the cornerstone of our family with a Financial Analyst, A medical student, a final year Attorney and the youngest completing her Form four this year,” she declares happily.