One of the most coveted careers in the financial industry is that of the Portfolio Manager, responsible for making the final investment decisions for a company’s funds and management of assets.
With over a decade’s experience in finance, Lorentha Harases has been holding that position at NamPost since 2006, and has seen the portfolio grow from N$600 million to over N$3.2 billion over the period.
Harases was born and bred in the dusty streets of Usakos. She was raised by her parents and attended primary school at Abraham Gariseb Primary School in the Kunene Region and went on to junior secondary school at Okombahe and later completed her school at Petrus Ganeb Secondary School in Uis.
After matriculation, she went to the University of Namibia (UNAM) and studied a Bachelor of Commerce degree. As her career path took off, in 1998 she added another feather in her academic cap by obtaining a Master of Science in Financial Economics through the University of London. She has also obtained the Advance Diploma in Treasury and International Banking from the Institute of Bankers (IOB), Associate Diploma (CAIB) SA and a Management Development Programme (MDP) from Stellenbosch. She also holds an ACI dealing certificate, which is an internationally recognised dealing qualification issued by the “Association Cambiste Internationale”
Harases started her career in finance at the Ministry of Works and Transport as an Assistant Accountant. She was later appointed at the Roads Authority as a Transport Economist. Having had sufficient qualifications and exposure, she joined the Bank of Namibia in 2002 as an Exchange Control Officer.
The hard working, determined and spiritual Harases was later promoted to the position of Head: Money and Capital Markets which she described as her dream job.
“I always wanted to work at a central bank, so when I first stepped through the door at Bank of Namibia I told myself this is where I want to work,” she says.
After serving the bank for four years, Harases was appointed at NamPost as the Deputy Treasurer.
“My rank has changed throughout the eight years I have been with NamPost and now I am the Portfolio Manager,” Harases proudly notes.
She explained that the treasury department under which the position falls is part of the NamPost Saving Bank. The Savings Bank accepts funds from both individual and corporate clients and Harases is responsible for investing those funds profitably in the market.
“I am basically responsible for the day-to-day management function of the treasury of the Savings Bank and to maintain a sustainable profitability margin through the effective management of assets and liabilities,” she elaborates.
Among other duties, she also trades in the money and capital markets to enhance the portfolio returns on the funds that are being managed for Nampost. Additionally, she also ensures that the Savings Bank complies with all the necessary regulatory requirements and other relevant legislations which pertain to trading, funding and liquid asset requirements.
“We also make sure that we provide competitive investment rates to corporate clients that want to invest with us as well as to brokers and other asset managers looking to place funds with us,” she adds.
The treasury department also needs to ensure that it stays up to date with treasury and investment products knowledge, as well as market intelligence and the market developments locally and internationally, that may have an impact on the NamPost investment portfolio.
However, there are executive committees such as the Board Investment Committee that oversee the management of the portfolio on a higher level.
Harases said that it is challenging to hold such an important position at NamPost, as the markets are highly volatile, and mistakes can be costly. It is essential to understand the markets, as well as the applicable laws and regulations, in order to carry out such responsibilities.
“If you know and understand your environment, the scope of your operations and the mandate that you are operating under, you will be quite capable of carrying out your duties without fear,” she says.
According to Harases, the Namibian market is relatively small compared to South Africa, with consequently fewer investment opportunities. NamPost is guided by an approved investment policy, which sets out clearly the permissible investments and risk management limits.
The range of products covered would include Government Bonds, money market instruments as well as corporate bonds including bonds issued by banks. Collective investments (unit trusts) are also an attractive investment, depending on the structure and size of the fund.
“We are a strongly Namibian investor, and therefore we prefer local investments as opposed to offshore or regional assets. Generally, Namibian investments afford better yields at current levels,” she adds.
Harases attributes her critical thinking to the knowledge she gained through her studies, and the years of experience. She also completed a financial services advanced diploma in treasury management and international banking.
“I learned and developed the necessary skills and gained valuable insight into the different instruments, and through the years I grew to understand the market, having a good idea where these instruments should be trading, as well as the implicit market value,” she says.
She added that it does take a special focus and concentration to manage such a large portfolio, and it goes without saying that one needs to be always sharp and remain alert to stay on top.
According to Harases, NamPost uses the Bloomberg system as one of the tools to stay abreast of market updates.
“When we buy Namibian Government instruments, we generally participate at auctions that are conducted through the Bloomberg system specially designed for this purpose,” she says. This makes it easier and more efficient, and reduces the risk elements that were evident due to long drawn-out manual processes in the past.
NamPost has in internal back office system where all the transactions are posted. Currently the Treasury department employs three people consisting of the Portfolio manager, the Dealer and the Treasury administrator in the back office.
Generally, most Namibian institutions square off their cash positions at around noon, which then allows time in the afternoons for Harases to spend time outdoors visiting clients to enquire about the effectiveness of NamPost services and collect recommendations for improvement.
Harases said although she had dreams she never knew she would one day be entrusted with such a huge responsibility. She gives credit to her parents for what she has become today saying that she would not have made if they hadn’t raised her with integrity and guidance.
Harases is now a married mother of three children and says it can be challenging as she has to balance her life between work and family.
However, she says she does not feel weak as a woman to reach anywhere saying that women also have the same abilities as men.
“Since I joined NamPost I have been working with men equally in this department, and I have always been of the opinion that as women we can also make a major contribution to the economy and the corporate environment,” says Harases.
She therefore urges other women not to think they are different from men, and not be afraid to speak their mind.
Turning to social ills, Harases believes that Namibian Government is trying its level best to reduce the unemployment and poverty levels in the country, but challenges still remain.
She also suggests that attention needs to be paid to vocational training to promote entrepreneurship and not focused entirely on the academic knowledge that people need to acquire.
Furthermore, she encourages people to appreciate the smaller things in life, “I believe that each one of us has abilities and if you want to succeed in life and have the drive, anything is possible,” she exhorts.
Harases says she derives her inspiration from God. In addition her husband and children are her sourcce of strenght who keep her feet on the ground.
She also reads a lot of financial market books to keep abreast of the market, and watches the Bloomberg channel and News from all over the world on a daily basis.
In conclusion, Harases advises people to learn to save from a young age and to develop a culture of saving so that they do not become a burden to the government or their children once they retire. To this end people can make use of NamPost products and services.
“I know that one must have sufficient disposable income in order to save, so we must each contribute to building up the Namibian economy, in order that we can all generate sufficient wealth to retire happily on the Farm,” Harases says. She closes of with her favorite quote that “You were not born a winner, and you were not born a loser. You are what you make yourself to be” by Lou Holtz. PF