By Rorisang Rathebe
When a bright-eyed, teenage girl took a school tour to the University of Port Elizabeth (now Nelson Mandela University), she had no idea that the path led to becoming Executive of Information Technology (IT) at one of Africa’s largest pension funds. In the university’s computer lab, the words across the screens represented a world of possibilities to her. She later learned that these words were code. Fascinated and excited, she returned home and attentively researched the field of Computer Science. Her name is Yolisa Skwintshi and, while she is no longer a teenage girl, the trajectory of her life has been driven by that nostalgic moment.
The story has been reiterated time and time again, but it never loses its substance or impact. It is the story of dreams being realised, and of aspirations coming to fruition. Today, as the Executive of Information Technology at the EPPF, Yolisa sits at the forefront of a digital transformation journey that has earned the company a nomination for the WorldPensionSummit Innovation Awards. Her role entails a broad portfolio which, to Yolisa’s delight, never lends itself to a dull moment. She is responsible for IT strategy, leadership, analytics, innovation and a host of functions that range from cybersecurity to infrastructure implementation. When she reflects on the many duties that keep her engaged each day, she simply says, “That’s the beauty of it”.
The unmistakeable passion that Yolisa has for her work springs forth when she speaks about technology and its potential. In South Africa, where the digital divide exemplifies vast socioeconomic inequalities in accessing technology, IT professionals face challenges and opportunities. “South Africa’s technological landscape still has plenty of progress to make on an international scale, but we also have one of the largest Information Technology markets in Africa,” she explains. Confirming this insight, the International Trade Administration recognises Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a major contributor to the country’s GDP, where the industry shows technological leadership in mobile software, security software and electronic banking.
It is this knowledge and understanding of South Africa’s unique position that drives Yolisa’s approach to digital innovation at the Fund. “We want to meet our members where they need to be met, and that means making our services accessible to people of all backgrounds,” she says. The EPPF recently launched a digital omnichannel, which allows members to self-service through various platforms. Whether a member has a smartphone or not, they can virtually access key information about their pension fund from anywhere, using USSD, WhatsApp, the online member portal, or the EPPF App. Members can view frequently asked questions, update contact information, download documents and forms, and request assistance from skilled EPPF agents.
Digital innovation is essential to improving the Fund’s service and creating an inclusive environment, where no member is left behind. It is one of Yolisa’s main objectives to bridge the digital divide amongst members of the EPPF and use technology to simplify their lives. The Pensions & Investments WorldPensionSummit Innovation Awards nomination illustrates how this level of commitment has not gone unnoticed. “In developing these digital solutions for our members, we were intentional and considerate of the social challenges that affect accessibility,” Yolisa says. “This nomination is exciting because it demonstrates the impact we can make when we put our members first.” The WorldPensionSummit is a global platform for pension professionals, which connects thought leaders in the field annually. At the conference, the Innovation Awards honour solutions and initiatives that show innovative excellence, technology and investing, to communications and plan design. Winners in previous years were selected based on their cutting-edge ideas and projects. The conference is set to take place from 2 – 4 November 2022.
Despite engaging in a particularly technical field, Yolisa’s approach to work and life is human-centred. She navigates the world with a perspective that positions her and others as human beings first. “Above our achievements, roles and histories, our common identity is that of being human,” she adds. This has allowed her to develop a dynamic leadership style, where the approach is tailored to individuals and situations. “While the nature of my work is extremely technical, the leadership and people-skills I’ve nurtured over the years are significant”. To this day, the ability to understand, motivate and lead individuals remains at the core of Yolisa’s work.
As she reflects on the time spent in her current role thus far, she notes that the “ride” has felt both long and short. When Yolisa joined the EPPF in January 2020, she saw an opportunity to make a mark. And while the IT team has already achieved undeniable results between then and now, Yolisa looks to the future. With goals that include optimising the Fund’s current infrastructure and solutions, she hopes to lead the team towards seamless service.
Boldness, passion, diligence and resilience follow her, every step of the way. “The Fund is maturing from a technological perspective, and there is ample opportunity for further growth,” Yolisa says. “I look forward to using technology to create effective processes and efficient experiences for our members.”