Jill Wilmans: Pioneering Innovation and Empowering Fintech Growth

The 10 Most Empowering Business Leaders in Africa 2024

Jill Wilmans, Managing Director of Secure FX, which first opened its doors in 2019, is a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for empowering others. She is a highly respected treasury advisor in Africa and her journey, shaped by knowledge, experience, and a commitment to innovation, serves as an inspiration to ambitious business leaders.

Driving Change through Knowledge and Experience

Jill emphasizes the fundamental importance of knowledge and experience in leadership. “To be a leader, you need to really understand your industry, what’s accepted and what’s not, what regulations exist, who your competitors are and most importantly, you need to understand the problems you need to solve for your clients; you can’t lead without these key things, that’s the bottom line, and that’s the foundation of everything. This is why learning, investing time in reading, talking to people and putting yourself out there, is so important,” she asserts. Her journey reflects this belief, spanning diverse industries, from event management to property marketing, each providing her with valuable experience and insights.

Secure FX, an African leader in the cross-border payments and treasury sector, was recently awarded the 2024 International Payments Service Provider of the year by Corporate Livewires Innovation & Excellence Awards for the work they do to ensure that funds move safely and efficiently, both in and out of South Africa.

Secure FX stands out in the financial landscape for its innovative approach, challenging traditional norms to provide cutting-edge solutions. Their expertise in understanding legislation and compliance is central to the company’s success. “Jill has a deep understanding of the nuances of the financial and regulatory framework we operate in,” explains Claire Harris, a long-standing member of Jill’s team.

Jill and her team are currently working alongside the Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group (IFWG) to test dynamic new cross-border payment solutions that could enhance the payments landscape in South Africa to adapt to the ever-changing demands of clients and innovation in E-commerce. Secure FX prides itself on navigating regulatory complexities with confidence and expertise. “Our South African regulators are advocating for innovation and are very responsive to new ways of providing effective payment solutions in South Africa,” Jill notes. This proactive engagement with various regulatory bodies reflects Secure FX’s commitment to driving positive change in the industry.

According to Jill, “Improvements in the industry will come through understanding law, understanding compliance, and understanding the specific risks and outcomes these regulations have been created to manage. Key to success in the fintech space is combining the use of technology with an in-depth knowledge of both substance and form of our various financial regulations. Before any advancements in the cross-border payments sector can take place, understanding the intent behind our exchange control regulations is critical, as well as a willingness to be part of the efforts to combat financial crime. Many think regulations hinder growth and development, but, as has been proved many times in the past, these regulations are designed and maintained to protect individuals and businesses across South Africa. Innovation and change are not about pointing out or proving something’s wrong, it’s about refining the way that things are done to suit a modern world, resulting in much greater opportunities for all.”

Pushing Boundaries 

Collaboration is at the heart of Secure FX’s approach. Jill fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration within her team, encouraging each member to contribute their unique skills and perspectives. Claire shared, “I have grown tremendously working with Jill over the last four years and am so grateful for it. At Secure FX, we don’t back down. Our industry is complex, but Jill encourages us to research and understand the nuances of the framework we operate in, and that’s how we find solutions.”

Melissa Needham, another long-standing member of the team, praises Jill’s ability to solve client’s problems. “She has an excellent track record in creating business solutions in the treasury advisory space,” Melissa notes, adding, “We’re always amazed at how Jill can quickly envision a solution to a challenge. She is knowledgeable and has so much experience in this space, I believe it’s because she’s always learning and not afraid of putting an idea forward. Our ethos is to push the boundaries, think and act outside the box, and ensure we learn from every challenge we face.” There is a real willingness to question conventional wisdom, which drives innovation within the company and earns respect from industry peers.

Jill’s leadership philosophy centers on empowering those around her, keeping a level head about any situation and tackling difficult situations with respect and integrity. Her team believes that her core drive comes from a genuine need to see those around her succeed.

Finding Meaning in Impact

If you’re going to take chances and challenge the status quo, you’ve got to have confidence in who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. According to Jill, “If your goal is only to make money, you may achieve short term success, but it’s not sustainable, someone else will come along and undercut your price and jeopardize your business. It’s often said that your career should be aligned with your passion, but being a successful entrepreneur means you also need to believe in what you are doing, why you are doing it and that you are adding value to your clients. For me, while I may not be totally passionate about the financial markets and global economics, what I am passionate about is understanding why I’m trying to solve something and considering how the solution I’m working on will change and improve things. That’s why I do this.” Success is not only defined by a positive bank balance; it’s also about your impact and ability to effect positive change, for your clients, your team and your family. “My greatest achievements can be felt and seen through the support and assistance I provide to the people I surround myself with, my clients and my team, in not only achieving their goals but also exceeding their own expectations for what they thought was possible.”

Inclusive Growth and Entrepreneurship

Jill’s vision for Secure FX extends far beyond conventional business growth; it aims to make changes to the cross-border payment industry by inspiring and enabling future business leaders, building and growing cross-border trade for the benefit of everyone. This includes embracing payment innovation as a mechanism to build their businesses in an international marketplace.

Rooted in her belief in Africa’s untapped economic potential, she envisions a future where the continent drives its own economic destiny through a new generation of empowered entrepreneurs. In her assessment, Jill sees a shift in Africa’s readiness to drive business growth independently, moving away from a reliance on external support. She remarks, “I think Africa is ready to start creating and driving economic landscapes that are inclusive, proactive, and deliver goods and services to a continent ready to consume.” She attributes this readiness to the emergence of a dynamic cohort of young entrepreneurs brimming with new ideas.

Reflecting on her journey, Jill articulates, “After 15 years in this industry, I still see the untapped potential of South Africa’s economy.” Her drive to foster inclusive growth permeates Secure FX’s ethos, particularly evident in its unwavering support for self-made entrepreneurs (SME’s), envisioning a future where Africa drives its economic destiny through a new generation of empowered business owners.

In fact, she is actively involved in developing systems and processes that empower South African entrepreneurs to engage in international trade. She notes, “I’m spending a massive amount of time and resources to build out our technology to enable young businesses, as well as older and more established ones, to compete in a global market. Effective cross-border payments and collections are essential for business growth; they’re the lifeblood of any business. At Secure FX, we’re doing all that we can to make these solutions available and accessible to all.”

Ralph Ertner, CEO of Into SA, has partnered with Jill and Secure FX to create The Expat Relocation Alliance, a drive to promote South Africa to people from across the globe to invest, to bring their experiences and skills and open businesses in South Africa and to retire under the South African sun. Ralph’s firm belief is that one of the biggest hurdles potential investors face in South Africa is in banking—specifically, navigating exchange control and making what should be simple cross-border payments. Both companies and individuals often encounter challenges navigating the complexities of bringing money into or repatriating money out of the country, often misled by misguided advice or opaque processes. He confirmed, “This is where working with Jill is truly refreshing. With her, you get two things – transparency and expertise. Her transparency regarding legislation, processes, costs, and exchange rate drivers, combined with expert guidance on outlook and trends impacting the markets, instills confidence and trust. Her deep understanding of regulatory frameworks and strong stakeholder relationships enables her to offer innovative solutions.”

Ralph also underscores Jill’s rare leadership qualities, stating, “She possesses a calm, balanced nature, remaining focused and friendly, even under stress.

Blazing a Trail

Throughout her career, Jill has faced many challenges, particularly as a woman in a predominantly male sector. Despite these challenges, her journey reflects the importance of adaptability, resilience, and a willingness to learn to achieve professional success. In fact, Ralph added, “Into SA has been active in the foreign advice and facilitation space for over three decades, and I would say it’s pretty much a male dominated domain, so what she is able to offer in comparison to her male counterparts is quite amazing, and I think she has achieved a differentiated position as a leader in that field and one of the few who can offer the full suite of products and services related to cross-border payments.”

Jill advocates for a paradigm shift, one that embraces the wisdom and innovative spirit of the youth. She observes, “To think that you can only learn from somebody older than you is a very dangerous position to be in. I am constantly learning from people younger than me.”

Reshaping an Industry

Secure FX, founded just over five years ago, emerged from a deep understanding of the challenges facing the industry, the problems business and individuals face when moving money across-borders, coupled with insight into what the future of payments could look like. The company’s vision is to be one of the leaders driving development and change in the cross-border payment sector. Jill and her team push to challenge industry norms and terminologies, to unpack where things go wrong, and to find sustainable solutions for companies who need effective payment products that are easy, transparent and secure.

Key to being able to push the boundaries is having a dynamic team—a team with differing views, experiences, and backgrounds. What Jill believes she has gotten right is pulling together strong individuals, all willing to put themselves out there, to challenge responses, to work as a team, to deliver the right solutions, solving real problems for their clients. She has surrounded herself with a group of exceptional women, aiming to elevate her business through collective strength, embodying the adage, “You’re only as strong as the circle around you.”

This approach has enabled Secure FX to differentiate itself amongst its competitors, particularly in supporting entrepreneurs from South Africa and those from outside the country wanting to establish a presence in South Africa. The numbers speak for themselves, with over 4000 clients trusting Secure FX and the team with their transactions over the past five years.

“The recent explosion of businesses in the fintech industry around the world makes operating in this sector both thrilling and rewarding. The universe seems aligned for Secure FX as we’re able to engage with companies from across the globe, sharing learnings and experiences, determining how best practice solutions from countries like Brazil”, India, and Egypt can be adapted to solve South African challenges. Jill shared that for her, “South Africa has a lot to share with the rest of the world. Our systems, structures and financial legislation are up there with some of the best in the world. It’s great to be called upon by people across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East to provide insights and guidance on how they can improve their processes.”

The Power of Differentiation

In a highly competitive banking sector, Secure FX has carved out a unique position by focusing on expertise and client-centric service rather than the traditional volume-driven approach. Success in the financial sector is often characterized by client volume and revenue. In contrast, Secure FX’s strategy revolves around positioning itself as the industry’s “professor,” offering clients valuable experience, knowledge, and respect for their businesses.

Jill explains, “Our approach to the client experience and their journey with Secure FX is a key differentiator. We go above and beyond to understand our clients’ challenges, what their business needs are, and how effective payments made at the right time can improve their bottom line. South Africa has one of the most volatile currencies in the world, and this can wreak havoc on any company engaging in cross-border trade. A profit today on a shipment from Turkey could turn into a massive loss in a matter of hours if the market moves against you. Mitigating these risks for our clients is what keeps me up at night.” This concern reflects Secure FX’s commitment to ensuring success and stability for its clients, especially in the face of current economic challenges. According to Jill, “Secure FX has become a leader in the innovation side of cross-border payments in South Africa, and it’s not because it’s the biggest or has the best PR company out there sharing our achievements. It’s about pushing, innovating, and being respected. Having people want to work with you because you can add value to their business.”

Ralph Ertner believes, “Jill’s commitment to transparency and expertise, combined with her deep relationships with all the key stakeholders across regulatory, financial and trading entities, is what results in a far superior customer experience then dealing with any other large financial institution.”

He added that, “Jill has the unique ability to understand her clients’ needs and the willingness and expertise required to come up with innovative solutions within a complex regulatory environment. Rather than simply saying it can’t be done, there’s a willingness to take on the challenge, engage intellectually and be outcomes oriented.”

Evolution through Agility

Reflecting on her time in the industry, Jill acknowledges the industry’s significant transformation, stating, “Over time we’ve almost done a full circle.” She recalls a time when the cross-border payment sector was monopolized by traditional banks, offering little room for change and innovation. However, she has witnessed a major shift as new market players enter the sector, creating a more dynamic and competitive landscape.

As the requirements for global payments evolve and adapt to changing client needs, traditional systems have struggled to keep up, prompting the rise of innovative fintech companies like Secure FX that use a pioneering approach to thrive. For a business to take advantage of current opportunities requires a nuanced understanding of legislation and payment mechanisms, fostering innovation and adaptability without necessitating major legislative change.

A Focus on People

Throughout her career, Jill has maintained a belief in the power of integrity and good character in business, noting, “Good things happen to good people.” This belief has been a guiding principle in navigating industry changes and challenges, emphasizing the importance of building trust and fostering strong relationships in achieving long-term success.

Jill’s role as Managing Director at Secure FX is defined by her hands-on approach and dedication to supporting her team. She humorously describes herself as “the first one to get up and make coffee for everyone,” emphasizing her belief that her role is to support her staff in any way necessary.

Her focus on positivity and empowerment creates a supportive environment where individuals can thrive and grow. Melissa adds that “she manages every single staff member differently, according to their personalities and what will bring out the best in them. She applies that same out of the box thinking to finding solutions for clients.”

Jill’s vision for Secure FX extends beyond business growth to making a positive impact on the industry and inspiring future leaders. “I want to change the way payments happen,” she declares. Her commitment to innovation and empathy sets her apart as a leader who is not just focused on success but also on making a difference.

She also emphasizes the importance of treating people with respect and empathy, citing Desmond Tutu’s quote, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” For Jill, this quote encapsulates the essence of effective leadership – the ability to communicate persuasively and respectfully, a responsibility that comes with being an inspiring business leader.

Despite her demanding schedule, she prioritizes work-life balance, crediting her supportive husband for helping her manage her responsibilities as a mother of two busy girls. She believes that being open about her personal responsibilities makes her more relatable to her team and clients, further reflecting her belief in authenticity and transparency.

Navigating the Future

The future of Secure FX is bold and innovative, driven by a desire to revolutionize global payments. One key focus for Secure FX is business-to-business payments, where Jill sees a significant opportunity, especially in Africa. She envisions a world where trade evolves to meet the demands of instant gratification and the rise of online marketplaces. She speaks passionately about her plans to partner with major fintech companies, not just locally but internationally, to transform the way cross-border payments are made.

Leading through Action

When asked to define herself in one word, Jill chooses “driven.” She sees herself as someone who is motivated to “make a change, leave a legacy, and do something my family can be proud of.” This drive is evident in her leadership style, where she seeks to not only lead her team but to also drive change and progress in her industry. She credits her supportive parents for instilling a belief in herself, which she now wants to pass on to aspiring leaders. Jill sees herself as a facilitator for the self-made entrepreneurs of the future, aiming to create an environment where young people can confidently start and grow their own businesses. Her vision extends beyond personal success, focusing on empowering others to believe in their ideas and abilities.


Jill’s journey with Secure FX exemplifies a commitment to fostering inclusive growth, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Her vision transcends traditional paradigms, creating a future where Africa’s economic trajectory is steered by a new breed of empowered entrepreneurs, supported by transparent and expert financial solutions.