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The Origin Story of Waseem Abrahams

As INN8 Invest’s Head of Distribution, Waseem Abrahams plays an integral role in building a BDM team with a focus on the future. We sat down for some virtual coffee to find out more about Waseem’s journey to INN8 Invest.

7 min read

Tell us about the career journey you have been on to land where you are today:
After graduating from UCT in 2006, I started working as a broker consultant at Liberty Life in the beginning of 2007. I was responsible for distributing Liberty Life products to independent financial advisers in the Western Cape. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by some of Liberty’s top consultants at the time and used the opportunity to network and learn as much as possible from these individuals, some of who offer an ear and act as a sounding board still today.

I was also very fortunate to be able to be recognised amongst peers quite early in my tenure based on some consistent successes, which saw me being offered a range of opportunities within Liberty Life’s distribution team, from working in the adviser acquisition and alternative distribution team to the investment specialist team and across distribution channels, ultimately allowing me to be able to broaden my understanding of distribution dynamics; the life-co environment; the investment landscape, and; importantly financial advice.

At the age of 27, I applied for a management position at Liberty, which I did not get at the time, however, something surreal did happen: an independent observer in the interview room saw something they liked and followed me out of the interview room and gave me his details to contact him if I wasn’t successful in my application.

In February 2013, I joined Standard Bank Financial Consultancy as the provincial head of private and business banking. As I look back, it is a time in my career I will always cherish for the experience it afforded me, the people I got to meet, and the dynamics of the environment I operated in. It allowed me to experience the advice process at the core, and advice given by my team as the Key Individual allowed me to understand the importance of what it is we do in the financial services industry, ultimately leaving me with the belief in making sure to always do what is right for client first and to make sure all questions are asked before any need is attempted to be addressed.

Two years later, I was approached to join STANLIB as a regional BDM, an offer I took up at the time based on my interest in the investment landscape. I quickly progressed within the retail distribution team, moving on to manage a team for a short while before moving into the role of head of retail distribution strategy and execution, allowing me to be involved in a range of strategic projects, proposition, and product conversations.

In September 2021, I joined STANLIB Multi-Manager as the head of distribution, which includes the distribution of our DFM capability, INN8 Invest.

What made you choose the financial services/investment industry?
To be honest, this industry has always been close to my heart. It’s fair to say I grew up in the financial services industry with my mother having been involved in financial services for 35 years and this naturally brought me a lot closer to it. Listening to her stories and meeting many of her colleagues, clients, and friends growing up, it always felt like home to me. That being said, it was a lot more personal for me to have an understanding of the industry and what it aspires to achieve and see the circumstances of friends and family around me over the years.

Growing up and not coming from wealth, I saw the challenges faced and sacrifices made by my parents to afford me and my brother a good education and provide for us the best they could. I also observed the challenges my grandparents faced in their retirement years, being comfortable in their working life but not being appropriately advised on what they accumulated over this time and to get this money working for them. Further, seeing the lifestyle choices made by others with an understanding of their circumstances gave me a sense of responsibility to my community and to the industry, which itself gave me a lot of what I have today.

These real and lived experiences are what drive me and why I joined the industry. It may sound cliché, but I want to make a difference in the lives of the people we partner with and ultimately the clients we work for. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want to achieve financial freedom and I would like to believe I can assist some people in getting there.

What has been the most significant turning point in your career – or describe an accomplishment that shaped your career?
Thinking about it, my career has not been driven by any one event but rather by a series of successes in the roles I fulfilled over the years and being recognised in these roles amongst my peers. At Liberty as a broker consultant: being recognized as one of the top BCs in a very short space of time and winning their annual director’s incentive multiple times. As an investment consultant at Liberty: being recognised as one of the top investment consultants nationally in a short space of time and winning the annual incentives. At Standard Bank: being recognised early on amongst my peers. At STANLIB: being the top BDM nationally year-on-year before moving into a more strategic role and ending my tenure at the asset management house.

What has shaped my career over the years is being consistent and committing fully to what needs to be achieved. I would also assign significance to the fact that I understood my purpose very early on in my career and what drove me was a lot more personal and I think those who I dealt with understood that. Further, I would be naive not to recognise that the turning points in my career where opportunities presented to me by those who saw potential and had my best interest at heart, something hard to find in organisations these days. I only recall ever applying for a job twice in my formal career, my first job at Liberty as a broker consultant and the senior management role at Liberty that I was turned down for. I remain a firm believer that meaningful relationships are key, as no man is an island and I have always tried to surround myself with people who are genuine, trustworthy, and who operate with a high level of integrity. This is something I learned very early in life through personal experiences.

Is there a personal project within the business or out of it that you are currently working on?
I think my answers to some of the questions already posed, hopefully, give you an understanding of what drives me and why the project I have been involved in since 2020 is so important to me. The project seeks to address the issue of financial literacy in South Africa by trying to educate the public on basic financial topics, that is often taken for granted. If there is anything that called me to action in my pursuit to make a change in this regard, it was the pandemic, which made me realise just how vulnerable so many people are, not only to financial pressure but also to those looking to profit off these same people’s vulnerability and their pursuit to achieve financial freedom without a basic understanding of finances.

Through the pandemic I connected with a few other like-minded individuals, and we managed to take some meaningful steps to address this issue in a way we believed could be of value for its intended audience. Today exists as financial education webpage offering basic short finance courses and is available free of charge to anyone who is wanting to find out more on a topic they may be interested in.

Unfortunately, this has come to a bit of a head as this was a completely self-funded exercise, put in motion for the greater good at the time. Going the route of not charging for content and not monetizing anything on the site and trying to keep it up to date and afloat is a difficult fate, but I do feel a sense of achievement that I was part of the team who put it all into motion and hopefully it serves its purpose.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take your current position?

  • Take time in your early years to learn as much as you can and take advice from elders, wisdom comes with experience
  • Find at least one mentor but ideally find a few mentors. This will provide you with a range of perspectives to make better informed decisions
  • Make sure you use every opportunity to grow your network meaningfully. Relationships are key to your success, and they do go a long way
  • Never be afraid to fail, take a chance, or make a decision that is unpopular; it’s not a popularity contest
  • Don’t just talk a good game, lead by actually doing the job yourself
  • Understand strategy, but understand execution is what gets it done
  • Always act with integrity in everything you do
  • Always do what is right for those you serve first

What makes you excited about Monday?
Understanding my purpose early on and the purpose of our industry has been my driver over the years. More recently the excitement of taking out the INN8 Invest proposition and being involved in refining the proposition, product development, and included in the investment decisions making process is what gets me going daily. I truly believe that what we are bringing to market is much broader than what has previously been made available and taking this to our partners and prospective partners excites me most.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
Not really, the journey has led me to where I am today and I feel that I am in the right place at this stage of my career and if I did it any differently, I don’t think I would be here now. I’m not one to dwell on the past, but I believe past experiences make for better decision making in the present and in the future.

What would you tell your younger self about the road to get to where you are today?
As they say, hindsight is a perfect science and as I think about it a few things pop into my mind off the bat but, to be honest, there is nothing I would really be telling my younger self. Maybe ask me in 10 years from now, I might have a different answer. I would, however, make the point around not being so focused on the outcomes, it’s not a straight line and no blueprint exists for getting from A to B, but instead enjoy the journey as it’s part of the experience.