Mover-shaker Transport Sector Retirement Fund recognised as national industry leader
The Transport Sector Retirement Fund (TSRF), a non-aligned, standalone fund whose shareholders are its members, has been recognised by its peers as an innovative trailblazer in the industry. In January this year, the TSRF was awarded top honours at the Institute of Retirement Funds Africa (IRFA) annual Best Practice Industry Awards for 2018.
The TSRF received the overall Gold Standard Award for meeting all the criteria in the following areas of excellence: governance; transformation; stakeholder engagement and education; investment practice, trustee development; and financial management and reporting. The fund also won the Investment Practices category and received a Best Practice certificate in the Transformation category.
Joe Letswalo, principal officer of the TSRF, says the fund differentiates itself from many others with its single-minded focus on maximising members’ benefits and making a tangible difference in members’ lives. “We have a very strict impact-driven investment orientation which enables us to achieve our set growth targets. We recently improved members’ death and disability benefits from two times annual salary to three times annual salary, and funeral cover from R30 000 to R50 000 for the member and spouse at no increase in costs to them. All the proceeds of the funds’ initiatives are reinvested and we pursue ways of finding savings, such as the more than R700-million we have generated through our self-insurance initiative.”
The fund has about 70 000 members, 70% of whom are truck drivers working in one of the many sectors in the transport industry. “With them in mind we have developed a responsible-investment strategy to build truck stops that ensures our members and the broader transport sector community are able to park and sleep safely and also have access to accommodation, refueling, mechanical services, primary healthcare- and appropriate nutrition facilities,” says Letswalo. “The first of these truck stops, the Harrismith Highway Junction Truck Stop, is one of the biggest in Africa and has provided a more than 25% return on investment over the past 12 months. It is now one of the largest work providers in Harrismith, employing 200 locals.”
Letswalo is justifiably proud of the TSRF’s engagement and education strategy, which strives to improve members’ knowledge of fund benefits and investments. The preferred communication method is SMSes, with online media, including the TSRF’s website and Facebook, also being successfully deployed in staying in touch with members. Regular clear communication messages help to keep members abreast of an array of financial concepts. “We don’t pay lip service to effective stakeholder engagement,” says Letswalo. “The majority of members access the internet via their cellphones and so we’ve adapted our communication strategy accordingly. Our website is now the top source of information on the fund. Members prefer to access fund-related information by this means. We are talking directly to them.”
As far as transformation is concerned, the TSRF has placed a target of more than 70% of its assets to be managed by black-owned investment firms. “To date 75% of the fund’s assets are invested with black-owned and transformed managers,” says Letswalo. “We’ve extended this to our stockbroker policy, which gives clear guidelines on the percentage allocation given to black-owned firms. In addition, all the asset managers appointed by the fund allocate more than 50% outsourcing to black-owned business.”
The fund’s achievement of its transformation objectives has not always been smooth sailing. A number of initiatives had to be adopted to ensure the sustainability of the transformation success. The objective was for the fund to walk the transformation journey with its appointed asset managers to ensure success.
“We realised that the playing fields for our appointed asset managers were not conducive to maintain the success levels, especially with regards to competition with the more well-resourced and established traditional asset managers, says Letswalo. “So, the fund convened an indaba with all the appointed asset managers whereby issues related to performance, good governance, resourcing, support and best practice were discussed. It was important that the asset managers understood that the fund’s success is also their success. At this meeting, they again unanimously pledged to uphold best governance procedures and to cooperate to advance the fund’s transformation agenda.”
Furthermore, TSRF’s robust internal controls, including frequent internal audits to evaluate best business practices and address potential risk factors, allow the fund to excel in good governance and compliance. The fund received clean internal and external financial audits for the past eight years.
Having grown the TSRF’s assets from R2-billion in 2013 to R7.5-billion in 2018, Letswalo is confident that the fund’s outlook is positive and its various strategies on target. “We are definitely shaking up the industry with our nimble investment strategies and people are really starting to sit up and take notice. We run a clean business where we place our members at the heart of it, and we are grateful that the industry has given us recognition for it,” says Letswalo.