Liberty’s Cindy Sibiya-Phora is excited to see how AI and machine learning will change the future of finance.
Cindy Sibiya-Phora is looking forward to seeing the evolution of accountants, and the finance profession as a whole. Having been in the profession for a decade, she says a lot has changed already, and there has been a lot more talk about accounting becoming redundant and being replaced by AI.
“I see it as an opportunity for us to enhance our skills and demonstrate our capability as service providers within entities. Not only are we custodians of key information and reports, but we have a birds eye view of all the functions in the business.”
She explains that the key lies in honing that knowledge and converting it into future value, where key decisions can be made. “We need enhanced technology to work for us. It can do the mundane tasks we don’t want to do, so that we can focus on adding value.”
Getting into the finance industry
After qualifying as a CA, she entered the financial services industry and started working as a finance manager.
“I worked with various portfolios focusing on specialised finance products for businesses. Because of that experience, I got to understand that there are inherent risks that these businesses get exposed to, and I developed an interest in insurance.
With her new interest, she moved to the insurance sector and now works for Liberty Africa as a senior manager. In her new role, she looks after 10 entities across eight countries. Speaking about her role, she explains that she “provides a support role for the entities and consolidates all reporting for the regions, then presents it to the group”.
Cindy ensures cost management across the support functions. She is the product owner of the finance-related projects that are initiated within her business unit.
“I also perform business reviews by going to the various entities and providing insights that can make their finance function more efficient.”
She adds that the company culture is great and is a transformational environment that enables growth and celebrates diversity.
Cindy says Liberty is currently working on IFRS 17 implementation, a standard that requires the insurance industry to standardise the disclosure and reporting of insurance contracts.
The company assists entities with reporting requirements, identifying systems and functions that will need to be upgraded and updated to ensure the granularity of reporting at a policy level.
“It has been a great experience. I have been exposed to different markets and cultures. There is beauty in working with emerging markets because you grow with them. Each entity and year brings a different experience and knowledge. I have learnt to be adaptable to situations and environments that I find myself in.
“There’s no one way of doing things: I had to allow myself to learn new ways and that a great solution in one environment with a similar problem does not necessarily solve the next. Don’t always assume the solution; take time to understand the environment and people you are working with,” she said.
Development and learning
She is also passionate about development and learning. She said accountants tend to be rigid and colour within the lines. However, she also admitted that there have been noticeable changes in the past few years, which have taught her that she needs to adapt and be agile to survive.
“I have learned that industries are evolving and for me to remain relevant as a finance person I need to adapt. It is not enough to just do what is required. I need to demonstrate how I add value, and what skill I bring to the table. I know the word has been overused in the past few years, but I definitely learnt to be more agile.
“I have relied on my analytical skills to probe and make sense of data or information that is put before me. Also, applying audit background, and not taking things at face value, but fully understanding the root cause to get a better view or knowledge. I also learnt that you never stop learning – that’s how you get better as a person and a professional.”