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Gender Balance Key To Strong COVID-19 Financial Services Leadership

Women are known to be providers, and wisdom comes as a natural trait in women like Tlalane Ntuli – COO at Yalu – who has been dominant in the financial sector and possesses strong leadership skills which she developed when she was the head of growth at the FNB Life Executive Committee.

As one of South Africa’s few black, female financial services executives, Tlalane Ntuli’s inspiring life journey shows how powerful gender balanced leadership teams can be; for companies, and the communities they serve.

According to PWC’s 2019 Executive Directors Report, 96.6% of all CEOs, 87.2% of CFOs and   91% of executive directors on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are male. Clearly, women are significantly under-represented in corporate South Africa’s board rooms, including in the financial services sector.

One notable exception is Tlalane Ntuli, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Yalu, distributor of the Yalu Credit Life Insurance Plan, insured by Old Mutual Alternative Risk Transfer Limited, a registered long-term insurer. The brand launched in South Africa in 2018, offering consumers new ways to understand, manage and pay for their Credit Life Insurance (CLI) policies.

Already a rising star in the finance sector, Ntuli founded Yalu in partnership with its CEO, Nkazi Sokhulu.

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‘South African consumers don’t understand CLI very well,’ Ntuli explains. ‘A lot of people don’t even know they have CLI policies or aren’t aware what premiums they are paying every month. We started Yalu to change this, and to help South African families manage their credit lines in a more sustainable way.’

Prior to creating Yalu, Ntuli was Head of Growth on the FNB Life Executive Committee, where her strong leadership saw FNB’s funeral offering grow from 600,000 to 1 million in-force policies – the fastest growing category product in the country. Before FNB she was Senior Marketing Manager at Old Mutual’s Mass Foundation Cluster, and General Manager for Brand and Marketing at Glenrand MIB, which became one of South Africa’s top nine business insurance brands under her tenure.

It was the combination of Ntuli’s personal and professional life experience that led to the creation of the market disrupting Yalu business model. Unaware that her recently deceased father had a CLI policy in place to cover his debt, her family fought to pay off the balance owed to the lender. Only after the transaction was settled did they realise they could have claimed on the CLI policy.

‘I already had a lot of finance sector experience, so the business opportunity and its relevance to South African communities was immediately clear to me,’ she says. ‘Nkazi and I decided we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to help South African families protect themselves better when they use credit, with saving money on premiums a key part of the offering.’

Yalu’s positive impact on the local economy became even more important when COVID-19 sparked a major economic contraction. Sudden retrenchments have been a feature of current slowdown, with many borrowers struggling to meet their monthly repayment commitments.

‘Consumer education has always been a big part of what Yalu does, but since COVID-19 the need has grown,’ says Ntuli. ‘We’ve been in constant communication with the clients impacted by COVID-19 retrenchments. Not only do consumers need to understand the basics of how to make CLI claims, they also need to understand the ramifications of opting for a debt-holiday – a choice that should only be made once all other options have been explored. Yalu has been very active helping people understand their choices, including what these will mean for their financial lives in the long term.’

So, does gender play a role in effective leadership during such unusual, and challenging, times?

‘Definitely’ says Ntuli. ‘Interacting with South Africans from all walks of life requires a balanced perspective in the boardroom – especially in times of crisis, when entire families and communities are seriously impacted. At Yalu, our diversity of views has certainly allowed us to develop a communications approach that resonates with South African families.’

Strong leadership during a pandemic doesn’t just involve protecting client relationships. It also requires active management of the health and welfare of the company family. As COO, Ntuli has led Yalu’s operational response to COVID-19 – a task that keeps on evolving and presenting new challenges.  

‘You need the ability to listen well, but also to act quickly and decisively,’ she says. ‘Everyone is justifiably very anxious about the situation, and employers have to be able to lean into these emotions and work with staff to take actions that provide physical safety and emotional reassurance.’

Under Ntuli’s charge, the Yalu head office acted fast in response to COVID-19. Every member of the company already had the ability to work remotely before national lockdown was announced, and all Yalu staff – from management to service and sales consultants – operated from home throughout lockdown levels 5 and 4. When level 3 was announced, staff started using the office on a rotational basis to adhere to social distancing principals. The company continues to stay flexible as South Africa approaches peak spread and is ready to revert to 100% remote working at a moment’s notice.

‘In the new normal every company has to re-examine its basic assumptions about how, when and where to operate,’ Ntuli concludes. ‘Gender balanced leadership is central to the re-calibration – to making sure we’re not only coping as an industry but thriving. The teams with the strongest gender balance at executive level will certainly be well positioned to make widely informed, progressive choices.’


Our name “Yalu” is short for the Zulu term isiyalu – the source of a river.  Yalu was born out of a passion to nourish and bring life to the world of credit life insurance. Our goal of delivering true value for money is evident in the transparency of our products, the simplicity of our process and the fairness of our pricing.  Simply put, we believe in doing right by our customers. By making credit life insurance easy to understand, ensuring that you pay what is fair and rewarding you when you settle your loan, we are changing the face of credit life insurance for your benefit. The Yalu Credit Life Insurance Plan is underwritten by Old Mutual Alternative Risk Transfer Limited, a member of the Old Mutual Limited group.

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