Nerina Visser. Picture: Supplied
Nerina Visser. Picture: Supplied

If someone came to you tomorrow with R100m to invest, where would you put the money?

My preferred option would be to invest it to achieve an impact which is consistent with that "someone’s" values, to make a difference where it is most needed, and to generate much more than just a monetary return on the investment.

What’s the wisest thing you could tell your 20-year-old self?

Don’t procrastinate. Just do it. Don’t wait until you are ready — you will never be. The experience you gain — through success and failure — will be the best teacher you can ever have.

What was your first job?

Not counting being a piano teacher when I was still in school, my first job was in the defence industry. I worked as a weapons system analyst, straight out of university, and was on the project team for the Rooivalk attack helicopter — colloquially referred to as a rocket scientist. I don’t recall my salary specifically, but it was in the region of R2,600 a month in 1987.

If you could fix one thing in SA today, what would it be and how would you start doing that?

Education. Quality education that prepares kids with relevant skills for the future: critical thinking and solution-driven problem-solving; and conflict resolution through rational debate and discussion. I would start with early childhood development, not at free tertiary level. And financial literacy, from a very young age.

What’s the worst investment mistake you’ve made?

In my early days as a sell-side analyst, in the late 1990s, I fell for the "sales pitch" of one of my colleagues, who got us all to invest in a company called Specialised Outsourcing (of Dave King fame) — it has a long, sad and sordid history. The very expensive lesson I learnt was never to invest in something I don’t understand, and to treat the views of supposed experts with a healthy dose of circumspection.

What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? And how much of it was due to luck?

From a financial perspective, my best decision ever was to switch all of my investments to index investments, specifically exchange traded funds (ETFs). And there was no luck involved — it was by design.

Big Tech or old-fashioned industrial stalwart?

Why choose? Big Tech for capital growth and old-fashioned industrial stalwarts for dividend income. Diversification is the only free lunch in town!

Art, wine, rare books or cars?

None for me as investments — art I like to look at, wine I like to drink, books I like to read, and cars I like to drive.

How would you defend ETFs against the criticism that they’re a bubble waiting to burst?

ETFs are investment instruments, not an asset class or investment strategy. They reflect the demand for, and value of, their underlying investments — by and large they don’t drive demand. The majority of trading activity is still driven by so-called active management, and even as the market share of indexed investments (including ETFs) rise, their share of trading activity remains much lower. That is not the stuff that bubbles are made of.

If you weren’t in the market, what would your dream job be?

A cricket statistician by day and a saloon singer by night.

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