In conversation with
Ms Paula Bongers
Chief Executive Officer | Proactive Wills & Estates
FDI Spotlight: What is the DNA of Proactive Wills and Estates?
Ms. Paula Bongers: We are a boutique Fiduciary Company specialising in wills and deceased estates and at the moment we have three staff members with over 40 years of experience each. We are a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa (FISA), who are the watch-dog body over Fiduciary matters in the country.
Our aim is to support our clients by taking the administration side of the estate off their hands when they lose a loved one. We know this is a challenging period for anyone and we are extremely sensitive to the individual situation.
Our advantage is that we do not have a call centre. Real people answer our phones. Our average turnaround time for completing an estate is 9 – 12 months, from the date of issue of the Letters of Executorship to the Distribution of the Inheritance. We have built up contacts over the years at the Master’s office, SARS, and various financial institutions, as sometimes being able to contact someone inside the organisation is the best way to get things done efficiently.
Where does your passion for this industry come from?
Ms. Paula Bongers: I have been with Proactive Wills and Estates for 15 years now, but have been in the wills and deceased estates industry for 40 years.
I have a Fiduciary Practitioner of South Africa (FSPA) Certificate and started my business because I felt like I could do a better job of serving people. It is not a very pleasant experience when someone dies and it is already traumatic enough; no one wants to be just another number somewhere and feel you or the person you lost have no one that cares. I see the work we do as financial social work; due to the nature of the industry, it requires you to be more emotionally supportive than you would be as a financial practitioner.
Having a personal connection to our clients, one that is supportive even in the smallest way, is very important. We aim to keep our clients advised right through the process so they are informed and we are always available if they should have any problems. Often clients are not kept up to date or advised throughout, which creates unnecessary stress during a difficult time.
I did not get into this business to make money; the main reason is, and always will be because I want to help people and support them during a difficult period. It is what gets me out of bed every morning. It is also why it is crucial to run an ethical business; when people know they can trust you, they will come to you. The money will then come by itself. I try to follow a quote from Simon Sinek, a British/American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant, every day: “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. ”
Another reason I wanted to have my own business, one with more of a personal touch and where the practitioners have a closer relationship with the clients, is because in a big corporate environment it often takes a long time for a decision to be made. In a smaller business, you can decide faster, and change and adapt as needed quicker.
It is interesting to note that, especially in the last few years, it has become clear that people want more of a personal connection and that they want human interaction. Clients do not want to deal with a call centre or website, especially when they lose a loved one. You need technology to support your business, but it cannot be the core of your business.
What are your goals in terms of future development of the company?
Ms. Paula Bongers: I am currently working with Business Doctors a development company within the business environment, on plans to improve and expand our offering.
Additionally, I have been looking at what I can do about youth unemployment. It is an issue that is very close to me personally and something I want to address to the best of my abilities. It is naïve to believe I alone will be able to make a massive difference, however, I believe every small bit helps.
At Proactive Wills and Estates, it is very much a balancing act, as I need to free myself from the day-to-day admin. Ideally we need another full-time estates officer while I run the business.
Once I strike that balance, I am looking at getting involved in a youth development centre in Joe Slovo called CleanC. My idea would be to run some internships for their leadership program. While they primarily do beach cleanups, they also run entrepreneurship programmes, create sustainable employment to enrich, educate, empower and inspire communities; skills development programmes; sports initiatives; safety and security initiatives, and focus on environmental awareness.