Casper Troskie, Liberty: communication is key for modern CFO

“It is very important to understand how investors see the business, because if you don’t listen to them, you might miss important trends,” says Casper Troskie, Financial Director at financial services company Liberty. In an exclusive interview with CFO South Africa Troskie shares valuable advice for ambitious Chartered Accountants, recalls his proudest moments and elaborates on the culture change that Liberty has embarked on. “It has been a great journey, but I see the task only as a third of the way done.”

Aligning shareholder and management interests is an area where Liberty has been criticized in the past, and the focus on communication is something that still needs to be fully embedded, explains the former Standard Bank CFO. "Traditionally, we have been too inward looking. Helping to change that is one of the things I am most proud of in my career. We have achieved a better level of governance and much better acceptance in the market since we initiated improvements in terms of disclosure and communication," says Troskie, who joined Liberty in 2010.

"Before these changes, our minority shareholders weren't very complimentary about the way we ran our business," Troskie says. "But over the last two years we have had almost a 100 percent approval rating. A big improvement has been around communication. We have been clearer around our targets and our financial statements are now highly rated. Communication with shareholders has been particularly important."

Troskie says the culture change that started and the leadership of Bruce Hemphill was being entrenched by the new CEO Thabo Dloti after he took over in March 2014. "We are now driving a new strategy, looking 6 to 7 years into the future and being directly involved in the strategy process although time consuming it is really exciting!"

Looking at the longer term means the Liberty executives do a lot of "outside-in-work", as Troskie calls it. "We are looking at which markets are lucrative. Which activities give us the highest returns? Some of the answers to these questions are not comfortable, but they give us the information needed to change the business for the better. This ensures we can focus on the right things going forward. Exciting as that is, it has also been a tough, busy period and it is ongoing."

"We are now driving a new strategy, looking 6 to 7 years into the future and being directly involved in the strategy process although time consuming it is really exciting!"

Troskie is a former partner at Deloitte, where he was Financial Services Leader, a period he looks back at with some sense of pride. "I had to set up a strategy for the insurance business in the audit and advisory space, where we were not really represented. If I look at Deloitte now and their successes in that sector, you can say that this was a great success."

While Troskie eventually moved on to become an executive rather than an auditor or advisor, he feels the years that shaped him at Deloitte have been crucial. Just like Hollard CFO Brooks Mparutsa, he advises ambitious CAs to hang around at one of the Big 4 firms to grow as a professional. "If you want to be a CFO of a big business someday, you should not rush out of the firm where you do articles. Become a manager, or even carry on until you are at partner level. The diverse experience you get is great - you get to learn from other CFOs and you have a perfect vantage point to see how businesses operate. For me it was very useful to get the exposure I got to quite a lot of boards, CFOs and CEOs. I was able to see how they did things and could learn from people like Nedbank's Mike Brown, for example."

Troskie says he enjoys "being in the engine room" himself these days. "What I enjoy most is being intimately involved in the business and the strategy. We have had to do things to fix the business, including readjusting our remuneration. I learnt a lot during my time at Standard Bank, particularly during difficult times, but at the moment I feel that this is the best job I have ever been in."

"I feel that this is the best job I have ever been in."

Like other CFOs, Troskie is noticing that risk-related decisions are daily fare nowadays. "For me, the CFO role has evolved to be at the forefront of where the business is going. I have a forward looking view about where to allocate capital, for example. In my early days as a CFO, I spent much more time on the financial side. Working with our investors relations department, I am very involved in the investor case, the international road shows and messages to the market."