Kedibone Madiehe, the recently appointed head of the Government Pensions Administration Agency (GPAA), worked her way up to senior management at the entity, and she threw her hat into the ring and when the position of CEO was advertised.
With her extensive knowledge of the organisation gathered during her more than eight years working there, most recently as a general manager: client relationship management, she knew exactly what she wanted to do when given the opportunity.
"As a client relations manager, I had a bird’s eye view of the problems facing the institution."
The first of which is to bring the institution into the 21st century, making sure it is fully automated while still catering for those clients who may not be tech savvy. Despite the number of clients the agency services, Madiehe intends to achieve this goal within the next five years.
Raised by her late grandmother (a retired nurse) in Bohlokong outside Bethlehem in the eastern Free State, and later by her mother (a retired radiographer) in Soshanguve, Pretoria, Madiehe is well aware of her responsibilities as the agency’s first female CEO. She has developed her values and strength from her well-grounded upbringing and she’s up for the challenge.
To fulfil her GPAA mandate of paying benefits timeously, reducing internal turnaround times, and reducing employer turnaround times, the agency needs to "adapt to the new way of working, and that applies to how it provides its services to its clients as well as to how and by whom it is run. If we do not adapt, we die."
She believes in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution that all organisms that evolved are those that adapted to changes in the environment. Similarly in this environment, to take the institution forward, it must adapt to the future. Her slogan is that you either adapt or you die.
The GPAA, a government agency, administers pension and other benefits on behalf of its two clients, National Treasury and the Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF). The agency will now also administer military veterans’ pensions. The various benefits administered by the GPAA are governed by several acts, each of which influences the way these benefits are administered, as well as the services provided.
The agency is predominantly funded by the GEPF and, to a lesser extent, National Treasury. The agency also reports directly to the office of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, who appointed her as CEO in November and has administrative reporting lines to the GEPF and its board of trustees.
The institution she is leading shoulders big responsibilities, servicing about 400 government departments with approximately 1.8 million members, beneficiaries and pensioners.
Madiehe is well aware of the responsibility she bears and has concrete plans to modernise the agency and make it the administrator of choice by being efficient, capable and reliable. She plans to execute this while also balancing the gender scales.
An eye on gender
March is International Women’s Month, so it is fitting that her commitment to supporting the participation of women and girls in all areas of the workforce is front and centre in her heart. She is particularly passionate about empowering girls at home and at work by giving them the skills and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty.
“For you to break the cycle of poverty and for you to correct the ills of society, you need to invest in the girl child. A girl child can be destroyed and disturbed by many factors. It’s extremely important to teach them how to stand their ground, because we come from a patriarchal society. Investing in girls through education and skills development will ensure that we curb several societal ills.”
To play her part in this endeavour, she wants to open up many more opportunities within the institution she runs. She’s the first to admit that this is not an easy task and says that when people are used to things being done a certain way, one will encounter some resistance to change, but not only regarding employment equity.
However, with recent employment figures for the country showing no change to the employment reality for black women, she is ready to take on these uncomfortable conversations. The employment figures continue to show that the rate of unemployment is more than 50% among black women.
"If you look at the statistics [from the most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey], you’ll want to cry. If we don’t adopt certain policies that address the triple challenge [unemployment, poverty and inequality], we are in trouble. Adopting different policies can be painful and you will receive a lot of resistance to change. We have to be cognisant of the fact that, as a government component, we have a moral obligation to abide by and implement the principles underpinning the National Development Plan  and the seven priorities of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework [2019 to 2024], which include economic development, providing a reliable, ethical and capable state, and a better Africa for the world, to mention but a few.
"It's uncomfortable because we have people who've been here for 20 years doing the same things and here you come and say, 'how about we look at things differently?'
"Comfortable or uncomfortable, it has to be done. If we don’t do it, we can never achieve it. So, adapt or die. Some people don’t see change as a constant, yet the only constant is change."
Filling a talent pool
She added that within the GPAA, the majority of women employees are in junior positions, while more men are in management roles. She plans to rectify this through succession planning, training and development.
"This will not be achieved overnight, however, I am putting in place a medium- to long-term plan to achieve this. I have engaged with our corporate human resources unit, and we’ve mapped out a talent development pool that we can identify and have put people into quadrants of success management pools.
"With succession planning, you’ve got four quadrants, which offers you an opportunity to see that there are people who are meant to be managers, others want to be specialists and have the potential and all the right attributes.
"So, we successfully did that when I was the general manager: client relationship management. I made sure that my team was piloted to see how we develop staff internally, and we’ll continue with that work more broadly.
"From this programme, the client relationship management unit managed to retain, retrain and upskill internal staff, and 90% of internal promotions were due to my initiative."
Madiehe, an only child, grew up in a matriarchal family, however, she has felt the effects of South Africa’s patriarchal society in the workplace throughout her career. She’s fought to change that for herself, and now plans to do the same for other women.
"I struggled in certain circumstances where I had entered a male-dominated space and, sometimes, you’ll get to a meeting and be asked to make tea by your male colleagues, just because you are the woman in the room. And I would say: 'I am not going to make tea for you, there is a tea lady. We are going to exchange ideas and discuss boardroom matters though provoking ideas that will shape the organisation and the country in the right direction.'"
A passion for service
Madiehe has four degrees and studied for her undergraduate and honours degrees in international relations and political economics at the University of Cape Town. She followed these up with a postgraduate diploma in organisational and business management, and completed her master’s degree in business administration in 2015.
When she was a child, her dream was to become an ambassador and she thought she needed to study international relations to achieve that. But that didn’t happen – instead, she landed a job in the broker services division in a credible and well-respected long-term insurance company after finding that getting a job to match her qualifications was tricky. She discovered a passion for the work and pursued her career in the medical industry focusing on client relationship management, and customer experience and centricity.
"My background in client relationship management happened by default and not by plan, but that default happened to be my passion. I made a career out of my default. I love keeping a smile on members’ faces, and it gives me great pleasure to resolve members’ escalations and ensure that we pay them within the stipulated time frames and provide them with first contact resolution.
"That is my love and passion, and nothing beats the feeling of keeping a member’s smile on their face. I love it, I love it, I love it."
Her career in client relations means she has the perfect vantage point to see what the institution needs now to service its large client base.
"When we benchmarked ourselves to see where we were as an institution, we saw that we still used a legacy system, and the industry was far ahead of us.
"We are working together with the GEPF towards automating our process from A to Z, and looking to the client management solution, the pension administration and how we enhance the system that manages our finances."
Support on the ground
Supported by her background and passion in offering quality service to clients, she is planning to decentralise the GPAA’s services. She wants to reach her organisation’s clientele in every part of the country, including the most rural areas. Madiehe believes this will not only speed up payment times, but will, in time, also reduce call centre queries as well as lead to fewer in-person service centre visits for clients.
"We have teams and streams that we have piloted and we’ve seen that with some of the decentralised functionalities, the turnaround time has actually decreased."
The biggest challenge for the agency in servicing its clients has been member education. Despite all the effort that goes into this, behavioural change on the part of clients is not yet at the right level. Madiehe wants to change this.
One solution is the rigorous expansion of mobile offices to include a robust schedule that will tackle unclaimed and unpaid benefits. These will travel to the furthermost reaches of the country to get as broad a coverage of clients as is possible.
For those clients who are not able or confident enough to go online, this is a tailor-made solution. Similarly, there are those who don’t have the means to travel to centralised offices, so these mobile offices will ensure they also get the services they need.
"We can’t just communicate digitally to the person in Qunu, Reitz, Ga-Dikgale or Ga Sekgopo, as an example. We can’t assume that everyone has a smart phone, Wi-Fi routers and a digital network – we have to respect the fact that the elderly want printed paper in hand without any hassle. They want to keep a record, so we give them that. We have to cater for both those who are technologically savvy and for those who are not. That is the name of the game."
However, while the agency will provide on-the-ground support, it will also upgrade its digital offering to speed up and streamline services. The automation drive will ensure that those who are online at home get accessible services too. It involves a contact centre that will provide a unified solution for managing inbound customer service and blended capabilities across voice, email and web chat.
"For our tech savvy clientele, our outreach always assists them in enrolling digitally via the GEPF app, and we deploy resources to ensure that our members who prefer digital communications are registered online via road shows and other means of online communication."
Unclaimed benefits and speeding up payments
One of the biggest challenges across the pension fund and benefits industry is that of unclaimed benefits. For the GPAA, Madiehe says unclaimed benefits “is one of the factors that lead to poverty because children don’t know that their parents left them something if a parent passes on”.
This ongoing challenge is more often than not down to clients not updating their contact details or ensuring their nominated beneficiaries’ information is up to date. This then becomes a challenge for the GPAA to try to locate and communicate with potential beneficiaries.
Other common challenges are payment delays – these are frustrating for members and can often be traced back to the department that employed them. The paperwork is supposed to be submitted by an employer as soon as the member leaves, however, many take upwards of 120 days to do the paperwork for a variety of reasons. This can frustrate the agency’s attempts to set a goal of paying out a client not later than 30 days after receipt of the correct paperwork, as outlined in the agency’s strategic plan.
To mitigate this issue, the GEPF has set up a task team to resolve the issue of red tape with departments and fast-track processes. It is also setting up measures to hold employer departments more accountable and so reduce delays in payouts.
Lump sum withdrawals
Potential system and logistical challenges may arise when government’s 2022 Draft Revenue Laws Amendment Bill comes into effect. The agency will need to be ready to process client withdrawal requests quickly and efficiently. The bill aims to solve the ongoing problem of people resigning from their jobs just to access their pension funds, which creates long-term hardship because they spend the money that is supposed to see them through tomorrow, today.
Madiehe says her agency is anticipating an influx of claims: “We are starting to do feasibility studies and doing the planning work to see how that will be affecting us and to see if we are ready as an institution to deal with the influx.”
However, she cautions clients against just withdrawing their money and spending it. When people retire, they are entitled to take a lump sum and then leave a portion to pay out an income, sometimes withdrawing that lump sum can have a negative effect on the retiree’s future income.
When resigning, many people make the mistake of cashing out their whole pension and, instead of putting it in a preservation fund, they spend it. This can have serious ramifications when those people do eventually retire and they don’t have enough funds to keep them going.
To help offer more options beyond just withdrawal from the fund, the GPAA hopes to generate multiple revenue streams, including attracting clients who want to preserve their pension instead of withdrawing it when changing jobs.
Madiehe explains that to retire comfortably, one needs to have at least 70% of one’s income as a pension.
"But we’ve realised that for many South Africans, when retiring, they don’t have their monthly pension as 70% of their income whilst working. When you retire, obviously, you’ll get some lump sum, but you need to have at least 70% of your salary whilst working as your monthly income in order to retire comfortably."
With her mind focused on a more inclusive organisation for all internally and in ensuring better-serviced and advised clients externally, Madiehe has her work cut out for her.
This story was sponsored by the Government Pensions Administration Agency and produced by the Adspace Studio.