Being a CFO is all about being flexible and able to adapt to change says Nilza Mngomezulu

The Global Alliance Seguros SA CFO discusses the challenges of her role - which include cyclones.

Nilza Mngomezulu is the CFO of Mozambique-based Global Alliance Seguros SA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Absa Group.

About stepping into this role, Nilza said: 

“Stepping into a big role like CFO is not easy, because it’s all eyes on you. The board is looking at you, they want answers from you because you are the true source of what’s happening in the organisation. It’s all about taking on the challenge and running with it.”

Upon being appointed as the CFO in May 2018, Nilza had to move to Mozambique, leaving her two daughters, aged two and four, and husband in South Africa. However, despite her busy schedule as a CFO, she still makes time to visit her family on weekends.  

Though far from her family, Nilza says she has gained a lot of international experience and knowledge in her role and has had to open herself up to a whole new world – one where cyclones prove a threat to the company’s profitability. 

“The weather changes are a big challenge for us, for example, in 2019 we had two cyclones. That alone affects our industry so much,” Nilza said. “It has made one of our focus areas to reduce those risks to ensure that we don’t expose our balance sheets.”  

Another focus area of her role is the remediation of the control environment and turning around the company. 

“It [Global Alliance Seguros SA] has been making losses for a few years, so we’re focusing on profitability and growth,” Nilza said. 

Coaching her team to impart knowledge and the skills where they see “shortage gaps” is also a very important part of her role. 

But Nilza didn’t always picture herself choosing a career in finance:

“I actually wanted to be an economist, but when I got 100 percent in accounting in grade 12, I saw it as a sign, so I changed my degree to B.Com accounting.”

She described the journey of becoming a chartered accountant as amazing so far. “It’s so broad, you’re not only focusing on accounting, you do financial management as well. You get the broader picture of finance,” Nilza explained. “It helps you to execute, understand and analyse finance.” 

In Nilza’s opinion, CFOs must be role models who are there for their teams. 

“At the end of the day, you have a vision, if you can’t transfer this vision to the team then it makes your life a challenge. So empowerment of the team, for me, is a big one,” she said. 

For Nilza, a great CFO is also someone who is approachable and flexible. “Things are changing, they’re no longer done as they were in the past. We’re becoming more innovative and we have systems that assist us,” she said. “It’s about being flexible in this change and being able to adapt.” 

When it comes to leadership, Nilza has an open-door policy. She takes pride in one-on-ones and forums. “For me, it is about empowering the team and transferring knowledge.” 

In five years’ time, Nilza would like to continue her studies and get her MBA. She also sees herself as one of the board members on “any or many” JSE listed companies. 

When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Nilza said: 

“Believe in yourself. Know that you do have what it takes. Sometimes you doubt yourself and you make the smallest mistakes in life because you are not sure. Take risks, be open-minded and just open yourself to the world, because the sky is the limit.” 

Nilza is part of a foundation, called the Phenomenal Women Foundation, which focuses on empowering women from all different angles. “Our key focus is education,” she explains. “We have allocated mentors to mentees. We have mentors from across all industries, from pilots to doctors, who get allocated a girl who aspires to be in the same career. They get to share knowledge, challenges and opportunities on how to achieve this goal.”