Dr Willem van Aardt’s journey from a small office in Pretoria to worldwide success with Finbond is the envy of many. Leadership sat down with the financial services guru to find out more about the Finbond success story, their numerous achievements, the institution’s business philosophy, and what lies ahead.
Finbond Group Limited is a leading global financial services institution that specialises in the design and delivery of unique value and solution-based savings, credit, and insurance solutions, which are tailored around depositor and borrower requirements, rather than institutionalised policies and practices.
Finbond is a credit provider with both fintech and brick and mortar operations, and conducts its business through administrative hubs located in Chicago, La Quinta, Phoenix, Merrillville, Memphis, Toronto, Sliema, Pretoria, Somerset West, and a total of 589 stores; 397 in South Africa, 183 in North America, and nine in Latin America.
At the helm of Finbond is founder and Chief Executive Officer, Dr Willem van Aardt, who obtained BProc (Cum Laude) and LLM degrees from the University of Pretoria in 1994 and 1996, respectively, and finalised his Doctor Legum degree in Public Law through the North-West University in 2005.
After completing his legal articles and being admitted as an Attorney of the High Court of South Africa in 1996, Dr van Aardt co-founded Thuthukani Group in 1998, founded Finbond Group in 2003, and was admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales in 2005.
In 2020, Dr van Aardt was appointed as an Extraordinary Research Fellow at North-West University, Research Unit: Law, Justice, and Sustainability.
”I established Finbond as a debt consolidation, bridging finance, and second-bond origination company in January 2003. Finbond commenced that year with four employees. Since then, Finbond has grown from a small office in Pretoria to a significant global financial services group with more than 580 locations, focusing mainly, but not exclusively, on providing unsecured consumer loans to the previously disadvantaged and marginalised,” Dr van Aardt states.
”The Finbond Group comprises several mutually interdependent and complementing business entities with 2 165 employees. Apart from South Africa, Finbond also has business interests in 15 States in the United States of America, Canada, Panama, and Malta.”
Achievements and valuable lessons
Under Dr van Aardt’s leadership, Finbond has hit a number of milestones which have cemented the institution within the global financial services arena.
In 2007, Finbond listed on the AltX sector of the JSE as the fourth largest Mortgage Originator in South Africa, while in 2012, the institution received its mutual banking licence from the South African Reserve Bank, which allowed Finbond Mutual Bank to start operating.
In the year 2014, Finbond listed on the main board of the JSE, and in 2016, Finbond successfully expanded its short-term instalment lending operations to North America and Canada through the acquisition of 171 short-term lending branches.
In 2017, Finbond was named the ‘Top Company of the Year’ at the annual Sunday Times Top 100 Companies awards, while in 2018, London-based Lafferty Group awarded Finbond Mutual Bank with a 4-star quality rating as a high-quality bank in the Lafferty Banking 500 global benchmarking study. Finbond was the second highest ranked bank in South Africa and one of the leading banks globally, ranking 11th in the world.
While achievements are there to be celebrated, our greatest moments often come from adversity.
In the fourth quarter of 2007, following the worldwide sub-prime crisis and collapse of various large retail and investment banks in the United States and Europe, the South African mortgage origination market declined rapidly as the four major banks lost their appetite for mortgages. Mortgage origination volumes declined by more than 80% in a six-month period.
This situation was seen as an opportunity by Dr van Aardt to diversify Finbond’s portfolio, and a decision was reached with the board to enter the short-term lending game.
”I obtained €10 million offshore mezzanine funding from the Dutch Development Finance Corporation and R40 million from Standard Chartered Bank to fund and expand our short-term lending operations in an extremely difficult fundraising environment following the 2007 worldwide economic crisis. Finbond used these funds to expand our short-term lending branch network by opening and acquiring a number of branches throughout South Africa,” Dr van Aardt, who has been married for more than 26 years, explains.
”While the COVID-19 pandemic and regulatory changes in the State of Illinois have yet again presented Finbond with significant challenges to overcome in the short and medium term we have learned that it is imperative to be flexible and reactive to changing market conditions and external challenges, and to act quickly and decisively. We have also learned that we can face and overcome any obstacle with sufficient dedication, belief, and commitment.”
Expansion plans and future goals
As a visionary and an experienced campaigner in the financial services sector, Dr van Aardt knows that issues tend to arise when one stands still.
That’s why Dr van Aardt is constantly looking to expand, innovate, and set goals to future-proof his institution.
”Our expansion plans in the short and medium term include: growing our South African operations through increased business volumes and expansion of our branch network; stabilising and then growing our international operations through expansion of our store network in North America and Latin America; and expanding our business to other parts of Southern Africa through equity and/or debt investments,” he reveals.
In terms of strategic initiatives, Dr van Aardt, in line with a board-approved Five-Year Strategic Plan, has big plans.
”Diversifying our business operations through key strategic partnerships that can add additional distribution channels is vital for us. The same goes for increasing our net profits through organic growth and strategic acquisitions. We are also looking at growing SAIL, our innovative contemporary operation based in Chicago, Illinois,” Dr van Aardt adds.
Leading the charge
Dr van Aardt describes himself as a leader who is passionate about driving performance and achieving sustainable growth.
”I believe in setting achievable goals and helping my team to achieve our desired results. We have a clear vision for the future of our group and constantly monitor trends and changes, allowing the board to alter our strategies as and when required.” he avers.
Empowering employees and creating a culture of collaboration are important facets for Dr van Aardt. This is possible within the supportive environment which he has created, where individuals can take ownership of their work and contribute their unique perspectives.
With a focus on achieving results, Dr van Aardt believes in accountability and provides the necessary resources and support to ensure that goals are met. He admits that he is not afraid to make tough decisions when needed, which are always in the best interests of the group.
”I strongly believe in Christian values and conducting business with honesty and integrity. I strive to lead by example, creating a culture of ethical behaviour throughout the group. I recognise and appreciate the enormous contributions of my management team and encourage them to reach their full potential. I communicate openly, listen attentively, and provide guidance and support when needed. I believe that a positive and inclusive work environment leads to improved results and productivity, ”Dr van Aardt, who is an avid reader, writer, and researcher, adds.
And you wouldn’t bet against those leadership skills continuing to make their mark at Finbond in the future.
The Finbond business philosophy
• Simplifying matters and focusing on the core economic characteristics of our business;
• Placing quality first and growth second;
• Being candid, communicating with frankness, being straightforward and to the point;
• Managing all areas, regions, divisions, and subsidiaries on a decentralised basis by following a rigorous budgeting process each year, with extreme autonomy to the various managers. Provided managers meet and exceed profit targets (for which they are severely accountable) and remain within all laws and regulations, they will be allowed to use their own initiative; and
• Complying with and adhering to Finbond’s Senior Management Expectations, Management Dimensions, and the Good to Great Management Principles by all senior managers.
• Aligning management compensation with shareholders’ interest through share options and performance-based compensation;
• Continued training and development of all staff members;
• Treating customers fairly and adding value to our clients’ lives and livelihoods; and
• Making a meaningful social contribution to the communities we operate in—particularly to the most vulnerable in those communities.
• Being frugal and cost-conscious, and expecting all to remain within their expense budgets and to meet and exceed targets;
• Keeping the Head Office structure lean (wafer-thin) and cost-effective. The purpose of all Head Office divisions, which include Finance, Information Technology, Risk and Analysis, Human Capital Development, Compliance and Internal Audit, is to serve and support the regions and branches, to add value to all regions and branches, and to assist them to maximise profitability; and
• Optimising long-term value per share through optimal use of free cash flow and effective allocation of capital (financial and human).
• Adhering to a high-performance culture of excellence, producing sustained results, and continuously meeting and exceeding expectations;
• Adhering to a strong culture of strict compliance with all laws, regulations, and directives from regulatory stakeholders;
• Producing A+ effort, a fierce resolve, and relentless pursuit to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great; and
• Managing for the long term and being independent, entrepreneurial, rational, logical, and analytical.