Strate CEO, Monica Singer, stepping down to pursue new opportunities

Strate would like to announce that its CEO, Monica Singer, will be leaving Strate at the end of August 2017 to fulfil her dream of living in Cape Town and to pursue new opportunities.


After being at Strate for almost two decades, and being its project manager since inception, Monica has been committed to the success of Strate. During her tenure, she was responsible for the introduction of electronic settlement for the South African financial markets and ensured that Strate became globally recognized as being one of the most progressive Central Securities Depositories.


Monica’s entrepreneurial spirit, together with her visionary leadership, has established an organization that embraces being a Conscious Company that creates shared value for all stakeholders.


“I have always had a passion for innovation and technology that drives societal change. With the potential disruption that the financial markets may face, particularly with disruptive technologies like blockchain, I will continue to research to stay ahead of developments which may lead me to consulting on these topics,” says Monica.


As the Vice President of the Africa & Middle East Depositories Association (AMEDA) together with her role in the World Forum of CSDs (WFC), Americas’ Central Securities Depositories Association (ACSDA) and her contribution in the last 18 years to the International Securities Services Association (ISSA), she created a network that will continue to share ideas at an international level.


Strate’s strategic objectives will continue to be executed by its long-standing executive team, along with Dr. Maria Vermaas who has been appointed as Strate’s Interim CEO. Dr. Vermaas has been at Strate as its Head of the Legal and Regulatory Division since the beginning.


“The Board, together with the Executive team and staff, would like to thank Monica for her contribution to Strate and the legacy that she has left behind. We would like to wish her all the best for her future endeavours,” says Strate Chairman Rob Barrow.


For further queries, please contact Leigh Bevis, Strate’s Head of Marketing and Business Development, via, or via +27(0)11 759 5466.



Truly making a difference through design thinking

Did you know that 35 days is the average that a new technology takes to attract 50 million users in Silicon Valley? In a world where it takes a little over a month to attract and retain customers, companies have never been more serious about putting the customers first through strategies that resonate with their emotions.


While meeting customer’s needs has been one of the cornerstones of any business strategy, business leaders will soon, if they have not already, realise that strategies have evolved to be customer centric across all pillars – by understanding how the client engages with the business from the pre-sale to the post-sale interaction, how the business makes the customer feel, and how the full experience can be improved across each potential interaction point.


According to Strate CEO, Monica Singer, it’s about under promising and over delivering using technology to improve what customers may experience. “Technology allows people to feel connected, so the use of advanced technologies, such as big data, distributed ledger technology, the Internet of Things and machine learning, are playing a huge role in how we make our customers feel, which underpins the success of the business.”


Singer adds that with the rise of a tech-savvy generation of clients, businesses need to embrace being innovative through design thinking and technological advancement to remain relevant and be competitive in today’s dynamic environment, or risk becoming obsolete.


Strate, as a Central Securities Depository serving South Africa, has existed since the 1990s and incorporated innovation into its business model from the beginning. By understanding global best practice, engaging stakeholders to regularly assess market dynamics and needs and keeping abreast of the latest technological advancements, it introduced many market changing solutions that add value to clients. One such example is a collateral management solution that would help bolster liquidity in the face of regulations, such as Basel III, that would threaten the balance sheet of many banks. However, Singer says that while the business brought this innovative solution to the market, it had to up the ante, which is one of the reasons the company’s collateral solutions can look at cross border collateral transfer using Distributed Ledger Technology, or that soon, it will also be offered using Cloud Computing.


“We have the alpha generation of customers who have been born after 2010 in a technological world. Everything they learn is from technology. Children are likely to learn things now from YouTube before they do from their teachers. Over the next two decades, businesses can’t be asking this generation to fill out paperwork, these businesses need to evolve to generate loyalty from the alpha generation and beyond,” she adds.


Design thinking is a collaborative process that is human centred. Businesses need to look at the whole pattern in the ecosystem and, through collaboration and the facilitation of social interaction, understand the full customer experience. They then need to combine left- and right-brain thinking when approaching their strategies to be analytical and intuitive when defining the emotional needs of customers without being held ransom by the needs of the product or service.


“It’s hard to kill your own product, but rather be the one to do it first before others do. If you are not using a design thinking approach, your customers may just kill the product as they did with Kodak, a giant which no longer exists thanks to innovation with mobile technology,” explains Singer. She elaborates that businesses need to spend three quarters of their time holistically looking at the whole ecosystem to understand it, then focus the rest of the time on product development. “Once businesses understand the ecosystem, they should create ideas without limitations and prototype those ideas with the market to get feedback, then improve on those ideas by combining customers’ needs with their aspirations.”


While evolution is key to keep up with the unprecedented rate of change, some businesses need to acknowledge that they need an ambidextrous strategy with leadership that too, can apply ambidextrous thinking. “Yes, companies need to establish themselves to be relevant in the future, but there are many cases where they need to nurture the core that currently serves the market. This happened with the media a number of years ago when digital news and Twitter threatened to be the demise of print media, yet print still exists because there is a market for it that wants to turn the pages of a newspaper or magazine. As the environment gets more competitive, companies need to remain relevant by designing their strategies around the customer; Strategies that continue to build trust by understanding the customer’s point of view, where customer-centric solutions are designed with this in mind.”


Similarly, a company like Strate has to nurture and evolve its core, while explore disruptive technologies. During 2016, it created two divisions within the company, CSD Operations and Fractal Solutions to achieve this. While initial thoughts would be that disruptive technologies could, and may even still, threaten the core business of CSDs – there is more of a case that they complement the business model and can drive solutions that address business problems across the ecosystem. One such example is proxy voting for corporate actions, which is admin intensive and flawed. Fractal Solutions has been working closely with the market to develop an e-Voting solution using Distributed Ledger Technology. The CSD is also looking at its big data capabilities to create value-adding solutions that provide further insights to clients.


Elsewhere within the business, the company continues to incorporate design thinking to address the needs of clients within the current model. Traditionally, financial markets have existed with one stock exchange and a Central Securities Depository. In South Africa, this is no longer the case after multiple exchanges were awarded licences after the country existed for more than 100 years with a single service provider, which has been a client of Strate’s since the CSDs inception. The new exchanges have also appointed Strate as their CSD, and Strate has had to show its flexibility and innovative thinking to understand their respective business models to create bespoke solutions for each.


Singer explains that it still remains a necessity to serve the market loyally and maintain the high-levels of service delivery, but it is also imperative to adopt the most advanced technologies and models that make you a best-of-breed company. “To survive, businesses need to be innovative to keep up with the rate of change of a new breed of customers. To thrive in this new era, businesses must choose to notch it up another gear and adopt design thinking with advanced technologies, without losing sight of the current market’s needs,” she concludes.

Finding what it takes to be a conscious company

Strate was named the winner of the Inaugural Conscious Companies Awards held at an evening gala event on 11 May in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.


There has been much to be said about the inclusivity of stakeholders to create and nurture shared value, as opposed to shareholder value, says Strate CEO Monica Singer.  “Companies are typically seen as vessels with limited liability, no heart nor soul. However, to be acknowledged as a company that is recognized for bringing humanity to capitalism is amazing, because it shows that Strate has the heart and soul to make a fundamental difference in its ecosystem,” she says.


Given that the world is interoperable, Singer truly believes in Ubuntu and that ‘we are because you are’ and encourages businesses to recognize that they should be consciously making a positive impact to the stakeholders within the communities that they operate in.


Conscious companies, by their very definition, operate with a sense of higher purpose and recognise the inherent value of linking business success with the socio-economic upliftment of the rest of society. “Truly conscious companies understand the need to be authentic in what they do and in driving change for the greater good, showing that caring forms part of their DNA in everything that they do,” adds Singer.


Her desire to change the world led to the creation of a company that truly cares for and nurtures its employees. A company can create magic by caring for people, because those people will go on to achieve their form of greatness, creating ripples of change across society.


Monica Singer, Strate CEO, following the announcement naming Strate the award winner

“Since its inception, Strate has made it our end goal to put the needs of the country first by embracing solutions that simultaneously transform and revolutionise markets and empower South Africans. We started by digitizing securities settlement in the financial market because it was in the best interest of South Africa’s financial markets.”


Prior to the birth of Strate, the country was ranked the worst emerging market for operational and settlement risk. Daily trades on the stock exchanged average 4000 in a day. The company has spent the past two decades building on those capabilities for the benefit of all South Africans, and as a result, South Africa is now rated among the top economies globally for financial market development and regulation of its exchanges. Trades average 280 000 on a bad day in today’s market. “Our philosophy has been to sell trust and its purpose has always been to serve the market for the greater good, in everything we do,” she explains.


Strate’s success has been underpinned by the spirit of collaboration. “Twenty years ago, we worked together with the financial market to transform the way things worked. Over the years, we have been working with various companies to boost financial literacy. Interestingly, companies like the Maharishi Institute and Thomson Reuters are some of those companies, and they have too been recognized as finalists in the Conscious Companies awards. Going forward, we are working with various parties locally and globally to embrace disruptive technologies and how it will change the lives of people for the better.”


75 companies were nominated for the award. Nominees were judged against the criteria listed below, where the company:
• understands what it takes to be authentic
• operates with a higher sense of purpose
• integrates the interest of all stakeholders
• develops visionary leaders
• builds a culture of trust, accountability, governance and caring
• encourages creativity and innovation
• is a responsible citizen in the communities that they operate in


Strate put forward its evidence for the criteria, with many examples of collaboration to create shared value. The company put forward its education initiatives across the board, conducive working environment for employees, as well as efforts to uplift the Africa and Middle East region. Further to this was examples of how it reinvests in the financial markets by way of its Special Purpose Reserve Fund, a fund that collects fines for non-compliance with Strate’s Rules and Directives that then pays for market education initiatives – from grass root to the highest degrees in finance at some prestigious South African universities.


Prof. Mervyn King, together with Nomahlubi Simamane, Vukani Magubane and Dr. Essop Pahad formed the panel of judges. They selected finalists for the awards in two categories: The NGO/NPO/NPC category as well as Company category.


The winners in the NGO/NPO/NPC category were Afrika Tikkun, an organisation which is chaired by Singer. The Maharishi Institute’s Imvula Empowerment Fund was named the runner up.


The winner of the Company category was Strate, and Belgotex Floor Coverings was named the runner up.


“We would like to commend all companies recognized in the awards and others across the continent that share similar values. It reflects that we walk this journey together to secure a future that will bring prosperity to all,” concludes Singer.



Farewell to Strate’s former Chairman, Bobby Johnston

On 1 December 2016, Strate held a farewell in honour of Bobby Johnston. Johnston was Strate’s Chairman from January 2011 to October 2016, and played a key role in the development of Strate 20 years ago.


Monica started as the Project Manager of Strate in October 1996, where she met Johnston in his role as the then Chairman of the JSE. He mentored Monica since then and has been influential in making Strate the successful company that it is today.


Here are some pictures of Johnston’s farewell:

























Strate: A Pioneer of Exchange-of-Value Settlement Solutions

All too often, good infrastructure goes unnoticed. This is probably one of the reasons why few South Africans know and understand the country’s Central Securities Depository, Strate, however, without it, investors would shy away from South Africa.
Prior to the implementation of Strate in 1999, SA was categorised as one of the worst emerging markets in terms of operational and settlement risk. Trading volumes on the stock exchange were averaging 4,000 trades daily, very thin when this is compared to the 350 000 on average during a month today.

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The Steps to Employee Wellness

It may be one small step for man, or employee, but it’s a giant leap for employee wellness. South African central securities depository, Strate, has incorporated a “work while you walk” approach to its daily routine. Not only has the company purchased two In-Movement Treadmill desks, more employees are incorporating standing and walking into their daily work routines, and have opted to replace their office chairs with stability balls, which are known for the related improved health, posture and strength.


Strate CEO, Monica Singer, using her InMovement Treadmill Desk

The Central Securities Depository already has a number of initiatives underway, which range from its corporate wellness day to financial fitness workshops. But since its CEO, Monica Singer, discovered the innovative ergonomic treadmill, she personally bought one for herself. She instantly felt energized because her serotonin levels were up at work, she was relieving stress and meeting her daily Discovery Vitality fitness goals. She wanted staff to have the same experience, which is why she invested in another machine to be used by staff as well and has promoted the use of standing desks.


“We live in the age of technology, whether it’s owning a smart phone that allows you to monitor your health, or a smart watch that tracks your eating and sleeping habits, or apps that combine that data to help you achieve your fitness goals. Many people have to exercise after work to achieve their desired fitness, but this In-Movement Treadmill allows them to work out and work on their computer at the same time,” explains Singer.  “It’s also about more than just ensuring that employees are well enough to be at work, it’s about employees’ physical and mental health, their social, financial and spiritual wellbeing.”


One cannot address wellness and ignore the importance of physical activity. It is vital that employees are encouraged to be physically active. This may be through an office gym, something not all businesses can afford, or through an office sports team – which increases the solidarity between employees. Strate already sponsors its corporate soccer and cricket teams, as well as cycling and running initiatives for employees.


According to Statistics South Africa, absenteeism costs the country’s economy between R12bn and R16bn each year. These statistics also show that on any given day, over 15% of staff could be absent. They also believe that two out of three employees who fail to show up at the office are not physically ill – but are rather battling to cope or are unhappy at work. Absenteeism is possibly the single most expensive problem affecting organisations locally and internationally, so it’s worth investing in a solution that works, and which is one that fits the culture of your work environment.


From work-life balance, to providing employees with an annual training budget to better improve their knowledge and skills, Strate aims to be an employer of choice.


Singer ensures that Strate takes their employees’ wellness seriously through annual work with ICAS (Independent Counselling and Advisory Services), a health and wellbeing service that provides them with access to a 24-hour, 365 day-per-year toll-free helpline for counselling and consultation, and other services.


Strate regularly hosts financial wellness workshops for its employees to educate employees to better manage their finances and reduce some of the stress caused by their financial burdens. A recent PwC survey found that personal finance issues distract 20% of employees at work. “These workshops make a huge difference in terms of ensuring that employees aren’t distracted and have the necessary tools at their disposal to obtain and maintain their financial wellness”, says Singer.


The new Fractal Division at Strate, sporting standing desks and stability balls

One thing that many companies overlook when thinking about employee wellness is the beauty of the environment in which employees work. “Aesthetics are important too, because you want to create a welcoming environment that employees look forward to going to every morning. This can be done through natural light, the display of colourful artwork, or having fresh flowers around various areas of the office”, says Singer.


“Employers must move beyond health assessment to-do lists to a culture-driven and relationship building approach in order to ensure everyone who works at their organisation is healthy and able to reach their full potential in their career”, concludes Singer.



Rob Barrow appointed Chairman of Strate

Rob Barrow, a current board member of Strate, has been appointed the chairman of the company’s Board, effective 4 November 2016.


Monica Singer, Strate’s CEO, welcomes the appointment of Barrow. “Rob has a wealth of expertise and knowledge spanning more than two decades in the capital markets and he has served rob-barrowon Strate’s board as a director for a number of years. I look forward to working with him in his new role as our chairman.” Barrow’s work history includes being the Executive and Deputy Executive Officer at the Financial Services Board, where he was responsible for the regulation and supervision of the South African non-banking financial services industries. Prior to this role, he was the Director of Surveillance at the JSE.


Barrow succeeds Bobby Johnston.


Singer says, “I am truly grateful for the role Bobby has played, not only as Strate’s chairman for the past five years, but also since Strate’s inception. He played a key role in lobbying the market to move to electronic settlement in the early days of Strate. He has been my mentor for the past two decades and his knowledge has been a great asset to this company. Going forward, I am pleased to have his continued involvement as a consultant to Strate.”


While Johnston was appointed chairman in 2011, he was closely involved in Strate when it was a project in 1996. He became a non-executive director of Strate when the company was formed in 1998.


Strate’s current Board comprises 14 directors, and 2 alternate directors, who are as follows:



Mr Robert Barrow (Chairman)

Ms Monica Singer (CEO, Executive Director)

Ms Ashnee Maharaj (CFO, Executive Director)

Ms Alicia Greenwood

Mr Chris Edwards

Ms Daisy Naidoo

Mr Keith Getz

Mr Leon Campher



Ms Marilyn Ramplin

Mr Murray Stocks

Ms Nicky Newton-King

Mr Nigel Payne

Mr Raymond Ndlovu

Mr Russell Loubser


Alternate Directors

Mr Charl Bruyns

Mr Ryan Proudfoot