Cogence’s first CEO, a seasoned leader in start-up ventures, finds the DFM uniquely exciting 

Cogence’s first CEO, Jonel Matthee-Ferreira, excels at building investment businesses and inspiring her team. She finds Cogence uniquely exciting and is confident that competitors cannot replicate it.

Jonel Matthee-Ferreira CEO Cogence

Cogence’s maiden CEO Jonel Matthee-Ferreira has a glowing track record of leading investment businesses. She had spent 15 years at ABSA. The last 8 years was spent as the head of Absa Multi-Management, and during that tenure, she grew the business from R5 billion in assets under management (AUM) to over R60 billion in AUM and assets under administration at its peak. Before that, Matthee-Ferreira held the position of Chief Investment Officer at Metropolitan Multi-Managers. But behind her intimidating CV is a mother of two pre-teen daughters (9 and 11 years) and a small-town girl who just wants to see other people prosper.

“It might seem like I have it all figured out in business, but in the middle of my workday, I need to negotiate with one of my daughters to do her homework. I’m learning something new from them every day. I have sport matches to attend and, on some days, a flight to catch at the same time,” Matthee-Ferreira sums up a day in her life.  

Throughout her 20 years of senior management in the asset management industry, Matthee-Ferreira has led with that nurturing instinct. Her biggest passion is motivating people and seeing members of her team take steps they feared. During her experience as a leader, she’s encountered some employees with no qualifications, but a desire to build a career. She put plans in place for them to pursue their goals. 

When I stepped down from my last position, for example, some of the employees had honours degrees. That’s the part of my job I enjoy the mostmentoring and motivating others. I think it has a lot to do with my journey and how I got where I am today,” she says.  

‘I wasn’t automatically going to attend university’

Matthee-Ferreira grew up in a small town in the Western Cape, called Bredasdorp. Going to university was not an obvious journey for her after high school, as no one in the family had the opportunity to study. She ended up going to the University of Stellenbosch because she was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. A trip to Stellenbosch University by an inspiring teacher led to a BCom degree in Maths. It was long hours of dedication and studying that all paid off.

“I wasn’t one of those people who were automatically going to attend varsity. I was just fortunate to be in the right place,” recalls Matthee-Ferreira.

Matthee-Ferreira ended up graduating cum laude in her BCom Honours in Business Management. This led to a scholarship to do an MBA in Financial Management at the Vlerick Leuven Ghent Management School in Belgium, a life-changing opportunity and experience that equipped her to follow the career she did. An Advanced Management Programme at IMD in Lusanne Switersland equipped her to be an inspiring leader and to keep up with changing trends.

A solid track record of building from scratch

In January 2024, Matthee-Ferreira became the maiden CEO of Cogence, the first global discretionary fund manager in South Africa. Cogence marries the expertise of Discovery, whose behaviour-change platform is the largest of its kind, and BlackRock, one of the world’s leading asset managers. Matthee-Ferreira joined Cogence only 17 months to its inception, and just as the business prepared to start bringing in meaningful inflows in 2024. This year, Cogence aims to meet the first milestone of one billion Dollars in assets under management, set out during its launch in August 2022. 

Luckily, Matthee-Ferreira has been down this path before. She led the establishment of Metropolitan’s multi-manager business in 2005. When she moved to Absa, she led the creation of investment solutions for ultra-high net worth clients.

“I know people might ask, ‘why are you doing it again?’ But fortunately, I now know what to expect from a start-up and how to motivate people,” says Matthee-Ferreira.

With all her senior management experience, Matthee-Ferreira also started thinking about how many changes she still wanted to make in her career. That led to deciding that she wanted her next move to leave a lasting impact. Cogence seemed like a perfect answer.

Most importantly, it was a fantastic challenge. To start something like this, but with the backing of a giant like Discovery, and to collaborate with a global industry leader like BlackRock, it made a lot of sense. Would I have joined a start-up DFM that’s not Cogence? No!” 

Apart from its association with Discovery and BlackRock, Cogence stood out for several other reasons. It offered something unique that no other investment platform could replicate – 60 million years of Vitality data that the DFM uses to go beyond return outcomes in its investment recommendations. Cogence plugs Vitality health and financial behavioural data directly into this state-of-the-art risk management and investment platform. This enables it to give investment advice that looks at the whole person – how they are now and how they’d likely be decades down the line, based on their forecasted lifespan. It tops that with recommendations for the next best action each investor can take to improve the number of years they’ll spend in good health late in life. Matthee-Ferreira said looking at the DFM, she saw that even if other companies can get their hands on the Aladdin Wealth platform that Cogence uses, they’ll come second because of unique Vitality insights.

“Vitality is truly world-leading in what they are doing. Even our partners are blown away by what we’re doing on the Vitality side. So, it’s so exhilarating for me to see so many outsiders admiring what we are doing, and I believe we are doing something unique that will have a lasting impact in the industry,” concludes Matthee-Ferreira.