Witnessing the growth and development of the women she has worked with has been a highlight of Freda du Toit’s career.The co-founder and executive director of Pretoria-based SDT Financial Software Solutions has an in-depth knowledge of the financial services industry, based on 18 years’ experience. She has put her expertise to work by becoming a mentor in the Women in IT project.
Du Toit believes that mentoring relationships are about personal development and growth, and that South African companies would be well advised to promote women-mentoring programmes to enable the country to achieve the sought after critical mass of women in top positions.
“Women from previously disadvantaged communities seldom have people they can turn to for business advice,” Du Toit says. “The business community therefore has a vital role to play in helping women with potential to grow and to create a long-term career view for them.”
It’s her belief that she can make a difference that spurred her on to create SDT back in 1995, with business partner Jaco Swanepoel. Her background was in maths, accounting and IT, while Swanepoel had experience as an actuary. “We were both working at Momentum at the time,” she recalls.
“What drove us to launch SDT was the persistent feeling that while big companies know what they should be doing, operational pressures often force them to do other things instead. We identified a gap in the market for a company that could combine its industry knowledge with software engineering capability to build solutions that address the changing requirements of financial services providers. Our goal was to bridge the gap between business needs and IT.”
Momentum became SDT’s first client, along with several other business and IT consulting jobs, but the company’s big break came when it was approached by a life assurance group in Namibia to develop an administration system.
“That basically funded the development of the first version of our software,” Du Toit notes. In 2006 SDT was acquired by a consortium as part of a reverse listing onto the JSE Securities Exchange. The R50 million listing enabled a black economic empowerment transaction, Silver Bridge Holdings, which is listed on the AltX and headed up by Swanepoel.
In terms of the deal, Kagiso Trust Investments acquired 20% of Silverbridge and SDT became the first company in the Silver Bridge Group.“The deal was driven by our desire to find a BEE partner and it was facilitated by our venture capital partner,” Du Toit says.
“It has given the group as a whole, the ability to service a broader range of players in the financial services industry.” Silver Bridge focuses on providing business application software solutions in a number of industry verticals. The group aims to expand through the acquisition of niche business application software providers.
“This is in line with our vision to make a difference to business through technology,” Du Toit says. SDT’s African customers include companies in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Swaziland, Lesotho, Ghana, Nigeria and Mauritius. At home, clients include Metropolitan, Regent Insurance, Hollard,and Sanlam, and others in the micro-insurance market. More recently, the company has aligned itself with the development of an enterprise architecture blueprint for the insurance industry.
“The insurance sector needs to redefine and reinvent itself to become more efficient,” says Du Toit. “High costs in the industry are largely due to ageing, poorly defined processes, which in turn are fulfilled by applications running on costly mainframes.
Our approach removes the duplications, bottlenecks and redundancies that characterise IT in this sector. By aligning ourselves with the principles of enterprise architecture, we are helping to streamline the entire industry.” Du Toit maintains that SDT’s focus on getting business architecture into the public domain continues to differentiate the company from its competitors.“Continuous learning is vital, and companies that keep pace with where the industry is going are able to contribute to its growth in a positive and lucrative way.” Contact: +27 12 360 0100; www.sdt.co.za