First Capital iron lady speaks management, housing

CHIEF Operating Officer at First Capital Namibia, Lizah Bezuidenhoudt (LB) has had more than 18 years solid, in-depth operations management experience in various industries. In an interview with Confidente’s Hilary Mare (HM), she spoke about her experiences and the role that First Capital Namibia has played in the housing market.

(HM): Can you tell us about yourself?
(LB): I started my career at Stanlib Namibia as a Unit Trust Officer and progressed to become the Unit Trust Manager at Namibia Asset Management. My main duties included fund pricing, bank reconciliation, client relationship management. l later joined The Namibian as Manager Marketing and Research and thereafter I joined First Capital in October 2016, first as a Project Manager and was then promoted to Chief Operations officer. I hold a Marketing Degree from NUST; a Post-Graduate Diploma in Business and Marketing Strategy from Lord Ashcroft International Business School in the UK; and I am currently busy with my MBA in Strategic Management and I am also a member of CIM.

(HM): Describe to us how your journey as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) has been thus far.
(LB): It has been an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, especially in the lending and project management space. Every day is a new exciting chapter, however I have a good support structure to guide and nurture my journey.

(HM): What are some of the challenges that Covid-19 pose to First Capital and how did you go about mitigating them?
(LB): Working in a client-centric industry, the challenge was during the lockdown period where we were not able to physically engage with our clients. This however did not stop our operations as we had to quickly adapt to the new norm. We immediately made it possible for our clients to access our services through emails, virtual meetings and making available as much information as possible on our website for example our clients can download our application forms from our websites and services continued with minimum disruption. This was further backed up by our team which could offer services remotely from home. So yes, it was quite difficult but it made us realise the strength in our people and systems as we could adapt quickly to the situation. From the business point of view, we have witnessed a gradual uptake of home loans possibly because of interest rate cuts by Bank of Namibia and thus more clients can afford home loan instalments.

(HM): First Capital has been involved in housing projects. How would you describe the role that First Capital has played in alleviating the housing crisis that Namibia faces?
(LB): First Capital provides end-user financing to GIPF members – these are Government employees and participating employers (like the SSC, NIP, some Regional Councils to name a few) that would like to enquire properties in proclaimed areas. First Capital has played a huge role in this space by especially financing in Local Authorities that commercial banks had been reluctant to finance such as village councils and smaller towns, because of perceived risks in those areas, however this soon changes after First Capital has financed these towns. Further, the majority of our loan book beneficiaries are women and first time home buyers who constitute 53% and 80% respectively. Naturally banks would only finance individuals who are listed on ITC or have dishonoured payments on their bank statements after going through a rehabilitation process; however with First Capital that is not the case, we can still finance home loans to GIPF members who are listed on ITC without putting any conditions. The latter initiative has managed to bring through a lot of prospective home owners to eventually realise their dream of owning a house and hence First Capital has promoted financial inclusion in that regard.

(HM): Your mandate from the GIPF has been instrumental in providing housing for civil servants. How many people have benefited from this scheme and what have been its key successes?
(LB): Correct. GIPF appointed First Capital in 2011 to manage three mandates. (1) Home loan scheme to their members. (2) Infrastructure loans to Local Authorities, and (3) Mortgage securitisation. Two infrastructure loans were lent to two Local Authorities. However given the huge demand in home loans, First Capital only started concentrating on providing home loans from 2014. From that time until now almost 2500 home loans has been generated with the top three employees being Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Safety and Security and Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture. Key successes is that most of the home loans was towards acquisition of plot and construction and hence increasing housing stock in Namibia while stimulating economic growth through creation of employment. Most of the loans given (53%) are to women especially single women resulting in a huge social impact. Of important to note also is that 73% of First Capital’s loan book beneficiaries are low income earners while about 80% are first time home buyers. As also previously mentioned First Capital made inroads in financing home loans in village councils and small town councils banks would be reluctant to finance due to some perceived risks such as lack of secondary market.

(HM): Do you have any funds that you have set up to be used in the construction of affordable housing and perhaps to provide home loans?
(LB): Yes we do have funds to continue offering home loans especially loans for plot and construction. First Capital is also finalising other capital raising initiatives from not only locally but also to bring in foreign direct investments towards issuing of affordable home loans as well as construction of affordable houses.

(HM): You have also produced reports on the cost of building. What was the basis and findings of such report?
(LB): The basis of the BC is to monitor trends of a cost of building a house quarterly. We recognise that housing provision is a fundamental for long term macroeconomic stability, not only does it provide diffusion and economic benefits for families, but also contributes immensely to economic growth. Through this report we provide more insight into previous trends of prices and the impact of price changes on the chart of building a house.
For comparison in this report we use a standard 3 bedroomed residential house structure measuring 76 square and not 85 square metres as supposed. Prices are from six different towns in Namibia (Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Swakopmund, Ondangwa, Rundu and Katima Mulilo) which represents a fair geographical coverage of the country.
Further, this report recognises the international standards of benchmarking the total cost of labour on a given construction project. International benchmark is that labour should not exceed 35 percent of the total cost of building materials. Based on domestic experience labour do exceed 35 percent benchmark. We thus adjust labour to 40 percent of the total material costs which is inclusive of the profit margin for a building contractor.

(HM): How do you balance the demanding nature of your work and family time?
(LB): It’s quite a daunting task in keeping up with work and family demands. The work-home ratio is generally 80/20, meaning that you spend 80% of your time at work and 20% at home. It’s quite challenging striking a 50/50 balance, but with the advent of Covid-19, it changed the dynamics. Currently, we are working on a rotational basis – one week at home and one week at the office, which allowed me balanced the two. I’m a stickler of keeping to my set schedule, whether I’m in the office or at home, but it allows me to put pots on the stove while working (LOL), and my family gets to interact with me during the day – especially after school. What’s important is to always take time-out, to reflect and recharge my energy.

(HM): As a woman in a leadership position how have you managed to stay on top while at the same time continuing to inspire other women?
(LB): I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist. You see, rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way like in a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. ‘Here, open it, it’s perfect… you’ll love it.’ No…opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognise. They’re risky. They challenge you. Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.

(HM): Any take-away for the readers?
(LB): My daily mantra is: “It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s more than okay to listen to the people you lead – in fact, it’s essential” – Mary Barra (CEO, General Motors)