Alumnus profile: Dr Andries Terblanche

Posted on February 01, 2021

“An academic qualification puts one in a position of responsibility: a responsibility to advance the field of your study and to use it to improve the fate of society and better the destiny of our planet.” This advice of esteemed alumnus, Dr Andries Terblanche, for current students, also drives and motivates him personally, paving the way to the pinnacle of success in his impressive career. Not only was he invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2020, but in November last year his mathematical risk model, which has been rolled out to 21 countries since 2016, won the CIR Risk Magazine ESG Innovation of the Year Prize in Geneva, Switzerland. Read more about his impressive academic achievements, his most-admired mentors and his future goals.
 
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: From 1981 to 1983 I studied BCom at RAU (Rand Afrikaans University) and was fortunate enough to make it onto the Vice-Chancellor’s List. After completing the challenging BCom Honours in 1984, also at RAU, I sat and passed the CA(SA) qualifying exam the following year.
 
In 1990 I dived a little deeper into tax law by obtaining an H Dip Tax Law at Wits. From 1993 onwards the accounting profession was becoming increasingly globalised, with the result that I returned to RAU to complete a MCom which I passed cum laude and was top of the class. From 1994, I started working on a DCom at UP, which I obtained with academic colours in 1998.
 
In 1994 I was admitted to the KPMG partnership and in 1997 I passed the admission examinations for New Zealand Chartered Accountant membership with distinction. This was somewhat nerve-wracking, as work colleagues and partners wanted to see how I would fair. First time I experienced exam stress!
 
From 1997 until 2000 I advised the High Court of New Zealand and, on two occasions, the House of Lords in the UK. This was a challenging, formative experience that I learned a lot from. I was deeply touched to be appointed an Honorary Professor at the University of Pretoria from 1999 to 2010, and even more so to receive an Alumni Laureate Award from UP in 2008.
 
My international travel and appointments continued, with invariable more examinations that followed. And so, I became a Fellow of the Financial Service Institute of Australasia (2004), a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (2005), Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia (2005) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Banking & Finance (2005). Workwise, from 2005 until 2010 I served as Head of Financial Services at KPMG Australia, and in 2006 was honoured by KPMG as a one of its Top Ten Global Partners.
 
As we know the field of quantitative finance and behavioural economics developed in leaps and bounds, and in order to remain current I obtained a Master’s of Science in Global Finance (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Stern School of Business, New York University) in 2012 with distinction.
 
Applying and building on what I had learnt by designing innovative and new mathematical risk models, I was appointed an Adjunct Professor in Risk and Actuarial Studies at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, from 2011 to 2015. This Faculty is ranked number one in the world in actuarial risk studies.
 
I continued to develop and apply what I had learnt in order to make a difference, and in 2015 I was  invited by Prof Menachem Brenner, inventor of the VIX Volatility (or Fear) Index (NYU) to become a member of the international honours society Beta Gamma Sigma for academic performance and contribution to business.
 
Since 2016 to date I have been a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Global Finance, where I have joined several Nobel Prize winners and other notable academics. In that same year I became the Global Head of Systemic Risk at KPMG International.
 
To understand the role of quantitative finance in risk management better, I enlisted in a Science Master’s in Risk Management at the Stern School of Business New York University in 2019 and 2020, which I obtained with distinction and was again fortunate enough to top the class.
 
In January 2020 I was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and in November 2020 my mathematical risk model won the CIR Risk Magazine ESG Innovation of the Year Prize in Geneva, Switzerland. Since 2016 it has been rolled out to 21 countries.
 
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: My career has drawn, extensively, on most of the fields I studied. The doctorate at UP was and still is valuable in terms of the pervasive usefulness of its application; hardly a day passes that I do not draw from its learnings.
 
Q: Can you single out a special mentor/trusted advisor who played an indispensable role in your life/studies/career?
A: The late Len Verster, a colossal leader in KPMG with a razor-sharp mind. He qualified as a lawyer and a chartered accountant, and nothing escaped his attention. He could command a room like few can. Working with him changed my life.
 
In Australia I learnt about servant leadership from the late James Strong OA, an inspiring leader who led some of the biggest organisations in the world and was able to get the best out of every individual. He was the brains behind the Australia Branderburg Orchestra, identified and sponsored young motor racing aspirants to become world champions, did the same for opera stars, yet at the same time was equally adept at managing the boardrooms of fast-food retailers, international airline groups, financial organisations and legal practices. An exceptional, inspiring, humble leader. He exemplified what the best in humanity could look like.
 
Academically, Emeritus Professor Marvin Zonis from Chicago Booth stands out: a man that can see far into the future and a mesmerising presenter. I, for example, witnessed a distinguished international audience of 1,600 people hanging on to his every word... while he was dressed in travel pyjamas (the airline having lost his luggage). His insights were (still are) so profound that nobody noticed or cared. He opened my eyes to the real problems of the world.
 
In the space of Finance, Prof Hersh Shefrin (Berkeley University) deserves a mention. His knowledge of the field is as vast as it is deep, not to mention his ground-breaking contribution to the field of Behavioural Finance. I learnt the importance of decision architecture and its role in rational decision-incentivisation from him.
 
Young up-and-coming academics include Prof Viral Acharya (NYU) with his doctoral thesis predicting that something like the Global Financial Crisis would happen, and Prof Damodaran (NYU) for the contribution he is making to valuation theory. Both are exceptional individuals who are pushing the boundaries of research to an extent that it changes the way we understand the world. I learnt the practical application of rigorous academic studies from them. They are truly global movers and shakers.
 
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: An academic qualification puts one in a position of responsibility: a responsibility to advance the field of your study and to use it to improve the fate of society and better the destiny of our planet. An academic result that centres on the individual – his or her accomplishments, or worse, increased social standing – is a poor outcome. This was established, unequivocally, in the biggest social experiment of our time that obliterated into the Global Financial Crisis of 2008: life is not about the individual, but what the individual does to/for others. Every person who dreamt of going to university, but for one reason or another could not attend or finish, quietly wants from every graduate.
 
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: Consistent with my faith, to push the boundaries of science and to use these advances to better the lives of people who I will never meet. For example, when I get onto the London Underground as part of my daily commute, I sometimes look at the other passengers crowded in around me, knowing that I will spend my day making their lives better. It will be the focus of my day: to change outcomes, using science, for the better – for them. And, in so doing, to do the same for the next generation, including my two sons, and their friends, the friends of their friends, and so on.
 
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: Between 1980 and 2008 the thinking, worldwide, was that success was evidenced by exceptional returns on investment. The unspoken corollary of that notion was that it came at the expense of everything else: employees, safety, investment in systems, risks taken in the process (often with other people’s money), society, social equality and the environment.
 
Today we know that success means the simultaneous pursuit and optimisation of all these objectives. This is substantially more challenging to achieve; yet more pressing to do so.
 
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading?
A: The Financial Times, The Economist, and the business books on Goldman Sachs’ annual short list of best books for the year. The Eurasia Group also has fantastic, insightful commentaries.
 
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss? 
A: I was intrigued with Dr Anthony Coleman’s response to this question when he mentioned Jesus. I would love to explore the notions of good business and risk management through the lens of Christianity with Him. I would also not mind sitting next to Elon Musk on a plane, or a spaceship, discussing the future of science as it intersects with humanity’s plights and aspirations.
 
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: I have plans, in conjunction with the University of New York’s Stern School of Business, to write a book on what we have learnt about business and risk management sciences and how these could be applied to better serve organisations and humanity. I would also like to get back into teaching. I have been teaching, but my current role has made that more challenging.
 
Q: In 2020, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. What is the biggest ‘lesson’ you’ve learnt from this pandemic and to what extent did it change your mind-set?
A: To be honest, the mathematics that my team and I have developed to overcome the shortcomings of historic business risk theory identified both the Global Financial Crisis and, more recently, the risk of a pandemic as threats to society. What I have learnt is that its message and methodology need to be spread to every corner: networks are here to stay, and they propagate risks with breath-taking speed. Do not rely on statistically based models to identify structural breaks (unprecedented risks) that can combine in manners (correlations) not previously observed. It is of fundamental importance.
 
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for South Africa and its people for the rest of this decade...and beyond?
A: My hopes for South Africa mirror my hopes for every person in the world: peace, mental well-being, being given an opportunity (a ‘fair go’ as they say in Australia), peace of mind and personal security, a good education, support in retirement, friendship, enough to eat and to sleep warm, love to share and inner strength to lend a helping hand. Kindness to animals, and respect for our environment. Acceptance of differences, toleration for others, and a deep desire to leave the world in a better place than we inherited it.
- Author Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences
Published by Nonkululeko Kubeka Moyo

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