Kokkie Kooyman at 70: Reflections on his journey

Nigel Barnes, Kokkie Kooyman

In this podcast, Nigel Barnes congratulates Kokkie Kooyman on turning 70 in January. Kokkie reflects on his diverse 35-year investment career and shares some of his global investing experiences. From insights on meeting management teams around the world, to Berkshire Hathaway meetings, Kokkie shares his perspectives on the financial sector – touching on the past and the future.



Nigel Barnes:

Hello, everyone. I’m very pleased, to be joined by Kokkie Kooyman, who has reached a major milestone. Kokkie, you recently had your 70th birthday, so many congratulations. How’re you feeling?

Kokkie Kooyman:


Nigel Barnes:

Strong as ever?

Kokkie Kooyman:

I can’t run marathons anymore. I’ve adjusted downwards. It’s both slower and smaller distance. But physically, I’m very thankful that I’m still very healthy. I cycle and swim and can still run a bit.

Nigel Barnes:

Good man. Awesome. Well, you’re looking well. I see Kokkie most days, and I can tell you, that he’s full of as much energy and enthusiasm as he always was. Kokkie, well done on reaching that milestone.

Now, looking back – out of the 70 years, how many of those years have been in the industry?

Kokkie Kooyman:

I joined the industry at the age of 35, so that’s 35 years in the industry. But before that, I followed quite an interesting route – first in teaching and then lecturing at UCT. After that I did my articles at Arthur Young, now Ernst & Young, and from there, landed up at Truworths, which was my major audit client. That was a huge professional firm, where I learnt a lot. From there, I went into a subsidiary inside a bank (a failing bank). The subsidiary had failed, which I wasn’t aware of, because most of its clients were bankrupt. This is all post the 1982 recession, which you didn’t have a clue of as a student arriving there suddenly.

From there, doing a lot of turnarounds. Again, a long story, but I ended up at Old Mutual Asset Managers, or OMAM as it was called then. Because of my background of being in retail and in banking, I was first given the retail and the banking sectors to analyse. Very quickly thereafter, Johannes van der Horst was so interested in the, then, Asian Tigers. The older listeners might still remember – Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia were Asian Tigers. And he said why don’t you go on a trip and look at those countries.

I was going to go with Dave Moore, then Chief Economist, but at the last moment, he couldn’t go. So I went with Dr Terence Mill, as an economist. We went to see all the central banks. We went to the treasury departments of each of those countries. We went to see the banking sectors.

At the same time, what was important for us was (South Africa was then moving towards a post-apartheid era) trying to understand how emerging markets, and the bank sectors in emerging markets, worked in an economy where capital flowed freely. Because at that stage, South Africa was always restricted from capital. Long story.

I think the main thing that really gave me was this interest in global investing. I’ve seen all those countries, the banks in those countries. Thereafter, you had the emerging market crisis, where Thailand fell flat. It went bankrupt, and all those banks we saw went bankrupt. We actually saw the signs when we were there. We were coming back, we gave the advice to Kevin Carter, who was running Old Mutual’s investment from London. We said there’s an accident waiting. We could see the buildup. And so, that really gave me the appetite for global investing.

Nigel Barnes:

When did you kick off with the fund? I think the Denker Global Financial Fund is coming up for its 20th anniversary this year. But actually, it had a bit of a life before that. Can you fill us in on that?

Kokkie Kooyman:

I actually started a local financial fund for Old Mutual, and that’s still going, but Old Mutual at that stage just didn’t have the appetite to go global. I landed up at Coronation, who were prepared to give me a toy – Tony Gibson, Louis Stassen, and the guys – and they told me I could run a global financial fund. That was September ‘99.

We did it for five years at Coronation, and then Johan van der Merwe convinced me to come across to Sanlam and start something bigger. So, we started SIM Global. The Denker Global Financial Fund, started as a Sanlam fund, which was launched in 2004, but the five years before, we ran the fund at Coronation, and the clients came across, and the assets came across, and we continued it here.

I think the benefit we had of those years at OMAM, what I learnt there, is the importance of data – being able to compare companies across the globe. And, for that you needed models. We started building models, we’ve still got about 400 models, individual models, for each individual large bank in the world.  I had a team of people, like Laura Ford and Liesl Basson, who helped me with that, to be able to compare any bank with any other bank in the world – not only now, but we can compare it to 2008, to 2003. We can compare different periods and learn from that.

Nigel Barnes:

What have been your two or three lasting memories of the last 20 years, or so, of running the fund? You’ve been on some great trips around the world, met some interesting people. How many Berkshire Hathaway meetings have you been to now?

Kokkie Kooyman:

When we go this year, I think it’ll be the 25th. So that’s quite a lot. For that I must thank Walter Aylett and Piet Viljoen who forced me to go to the first one.

Look, the philosophy was always if you want to find smaller banks and smaller companies, you’ve got to go and meet the management. That was still from my banking days. You had to look the clients in the eyes, see the premises before making a decision whether you make a loan to them or not.

We always travelled a lot. At one stage, I think we did six or eight trips per year, of two weeks, just seeing companies all over the world. I actually arrived in Chennai, South India once, with Laura, in a November. We were the first foreign investor to see this bank, a federal bank, and they asked, ‘How did you find us?’ You build so much experience in that.

Nigel Barnes:

Anyone in particular stand out for you, in terms of management of these financial organisations, over the years?

Kokkie Kooyman:

Yes, there were quite few. The one that impressed me in the early days, the most, was Dick Kovacevich, they guy who started and built Wells Fargo into the giant it was now. Wells Fargo, actually, was almost still a small cap then. We used to go to the UBS conferences in New York, with Francios Gouws, and their SA managements would also go there, as well, and you’d discuss all these banks.

But Wells just stood out. They were first to really grow pan-national, in the US from California, and they believed in this cross-selling. They had a huge, different culture. This guy was always driving his staff in client satisfaction. It all went wrong post-2012/14, but it was an amazing business.

But if you think of other businesses, in Turkey the Turkish managements were really good. There was a little bank we loved there, TSKB. Here in South Africa, Capitec, still. I think in all my years, there’s only been one business that beats Capitec, just in terms of vision and growth, and that was Tinkoff in Russia. And sadly, that ended when Russia invaded Ukraine. But that was an amazing management team.

Nigel Barnes:

Interesting. Just going back to the Berkshire Hathaway situation. Obviously, with Charlie passing, things are going to look different at the meeting this year. You’re going at the end of May. Any thoughts about how that landscape might look, going forward?

Kokkie Kooyman:

If you quickly just think back, I went the first time in, I think it was 2000, when the tech bubble was still on the go. People were pleading with Charlie and Warren – ‘Mr Buffett, Mr Munger, please, please, buy some tech shares.’ And they said they refused to invest in something they didn’t understand.

They were always having a go at each other, and Charlie was always very direct. ‘We don’t invest in turds.’ We only invest in what we understand. Then, the next year, when the tech bubble had collapsed, investors were standing up and thanking them, and saying, ‘Mr Munger, Mr Buffett, thank you so much for not investing’.  And then, obviously, the next one, 2007/8, again, where there was shocking behaviour on this part of the rating agencies, the accounting firms, the banks, and Charlie used some very choice words to describe the behaviour of what was going on. By the way, there was a week period there that I couldn’t sleep.

I’m definitely going, we’re taking a group this year, but I think a lot of investors started coming in for the interaction with Charlie and Warren. When you’ve got two people, 99 and 93, with all that experience, strong personalities, and being prepared in front of 40,000 people to disagree with one another and straightforwardly so, and with humour. That will be missed. I’m not sure how it’s going to go from here onward with only Warren. He will, obviously, bring Greg Abel and Ajit, but it won’t be quite the same. It will most probably deteriorate, but we’ll follow it.

Nigel Barnes:

Yes, that would be interesting. Because you’ve got a few years to go, then, hey? Those boys were in their 90s, so a bit of time to go.

Kokkie Kooyman:

Exactly, yes.

Nigel Barnes:

Just to finish off, in terms of the market cycle and the financial sector (we’re going to do a podcast with you and the team in the next couple of weeks and get into this in a bit more detail). But with inflation coming under control, starting to cool, rates coming down in time – how do you feel about things in the broader financial sector, globally?

Kokkie Kooyman:

I’m actually just writing something, where I reflect back on the last 15 years, post-Global Financial Crisis. It’s amazing how all those events that happened, you couldn’t forecast that, and yet, the fund and the markets did well if you look back over 15 years.  I mean, there was a lot of volatility in between.

Again, here, I find most of the time we spend with clients, often, is answering questions on interest rates, on inflation. Even if you just think back on the past five years, from 2019… go and look at the forecasts that were bandied around about inflation, then. Recall pre-COVID inflation was running very low, global interest rates were very low, actually, below 1%. And then COVID came, and growth was being brought down dramatically, and within two years inflation was at very high levels, and suddenly the long bond yield at 5%, and then again.

But sure, the environment has changed. The interest rates will come down, inflation is coming down. We just don’t know how much, but at least it will be easier to breathe in that regard.

I think based on all of that, the interest rates mostly stay higher for longer, and they won’t go back to a negative. But we – and Madalet Sessions (our Head of Multi-Asset) plays a huge role in challenging us internally, and the discussions – we don’t think central banks will make that mistake again, of going to such low interest rates, they’ve learnt a lesson.

So that is, obviously, as far as my sector goes. We believe it’s a much better environment for your financials. And so, making financials very attractive. Obviously, being the barber I am, I recommend come for a haircut.

Nigel Barnes:

There’s still plenty of opportunities.

Kokkie Kooyman:

There’s still plenty. We’re actually excited about the opportunities, but we’ll do that in the next podcast.

Nigel Barnes:

Yes, we’ll do that in the next one. Kokkie, thank you. I know you’ve got to get off a meeting in Stellenbosch now, but really appreciate you taking some time to chat. Once again, many congratulations on reaching the 70th milestone, and may there be many more years running the Denker Global Financial Fund – you and the team. We’ll catch up with you, again, soon.

Kokkie Kooyman:

Thanks a lot, Nigel.



The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily represent those of Denker Capital. This podcast does not take the circumstances of a particular person or entity into account and is not advice in relation to an investment. Please do not rely on any information without appropriate advice from an independent financial adviser. The value of investments may go down as well as up, and past performance is not a guide to future performance. Denker Capital is an authorised financial services provider in South Africa (FSP number 47075). The opinions expressed are not guaranteed to occur.

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About the author

  • Nigel Barnes

    Nigel’s focus is to drive the business development strategy and lead the sales function. Before joining us, Nigel fulfilled a range of business development and sales roles over a period of 10 years at Investec. While living in London, before relocating to South Africa, Nigel was the sales director at Deutsche Asset Management and a director at Close Finsbury Asset Management. His career started in 1995 and has included consulting work, where his main focus was building strategic partnerships in the financial services industry. Nigel joined Denker Capital in 2018, bringing with him a wealth of local and international asset management industry experience.

  • Kokkie Kooyman

    Kokkie manages the award-winning Denker Global Financial Fund and its rand-denominated feeder fund. In 1989 he joined Old Mutual where he filled various investment management roles over 10 years, the last being Head of the Financial Services Sector. From 1999, Kokkie spent five years managing the local and global financial funds at Coronation Fund Managers. He established SIM (Sanlam Investment Management) Global in 2004, which merged with SIM Unconstrained Capital Partners to form Denker Capital. Kokkie has received the prestigious UK-based Investment Week’s Fund Manager of the Year award four times (2010-2013) in the financials category. The funds that Kokkie has managed over the years have received a range of industry awards. These include a Morningstar award for the Denker Global Financial Fund as well as Raging Bull awards for the Nedgroup Investments Financials Fund and the Denker SCI Global Equity Feeder Fund (the South African-registered feeder fund for the Denker Global Equity Fund).