Why Capitec CEO Gerrie Fourie believes land reform will be 'responsible'

Capitec CEO Gerrie Fourie isn’t too concerned about the land reform debate, which could see a change to the legislation protecting property rights, saying it's his personal belief "we will get a responsible answer to that question".

"What the country needs now is radical growth….we need to get the country growing, we need to get unemployment lower, we have a massive responsibility to get education going," he told Fin24 in an interview.

The 54-year-old Fourie is audibly excited about Capitec’s plans and his hopes for South Africa, following the release of the bank’s interim results to end August reporting a 20% rise in profit in the period under review.

Fourie acknowledges the bank - SA’s 6th largest by asset value, according to the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) - has very little exposure to farmland, but adds that land expropriation of urban properties could hit their home loan division.

SA’s banks have about R1.6trn in property loans, which could be affected by changes to the Constitution.

Fourie says he prefers to focus on the Capitec Foundation’s assistance to schools in the Eastern and Western Cape, upskilling principals and teachers.

Capitec, which started out as a microlender in the 1990s, has been labelled the “little bank that could”. This after being backed by Stellenbosch-based investment group PSG in the early 2000s, when it transitioned into a retail bank, focusing on the lower income segment with a no-frills approach to transactions, loans, savings and recently, funeral insurance.

Fourie, who has a BCom Honours degree and an MBA, has been at Capitec since its launch, as head of operations. He was appointed as CEO in 2014, taking over from the current chairperson, Riaan Stassen.

Bloomberg data estimates he took home a cool R18.22m in the 2017 financial year.

Fourie, however, says he never wanted to be a CEO and would have preferred to be an entrepreneur. But, he says, Capitec gave him the “opportunity to build something.”

He credits his previous background as Area General Manager of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery from 1997 to 2000, focusing on distribution and sales, with helping him develop the necessary skills to help drive Capitec’s rise to 9.5 million customers by August 2018. The bank currently has over 800 branches.

Capitec has set its sights on business banking and submitted a bid for Mercantile Bank, a subsidiary of Portugese state owned company Caixa Geral de Depósitos in August. Fourie says they’re hoping to hear the outcome of the decision in October.

He admits he came under strain at the end of January when US short sellers Viceroy Research published a report claiming the banks overstated its assets and income.

Fourie says strategies were devised to address four groups: clients, staff, media and analysts. The aim was to reassure each category, providing information and answering queries. The SARB and National Treasury declared Capitec to be in good financial health, preventing a run-on for the bank.

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