CFO Day asks Deon Viljoen how to unlock shared value


Group CFO Deon Viljoen reveals how Discovery has integrated man and machine to realise value.

Once a year, 100 of South Africa’s top finance executives come together for the full-day learning and networking opportunity, known as CFO Day. This year, it took place in the luxurious conference hall at The Leonardo in Sandton, and touched on the role man and machine play in the future of work.

As part of the day’s agenda, guests received the exclusive opportunity to ask three CFOs and one CEO their burning questions about integrating technology and people in a meaningful way.

In this article, we reveal Discovery Group CFO Deon Viljoen’s answers to some of the questions asked on the day.

1. How did you create a business that is so focused on people?

There are numerous dimensions to being people-centric, but in my view, at its core, is for the organisation to be purpose-driven. Discovery’s purpose is to “make people healthy and to enhance and protect their lives”. This is deeply ingrained in our DNA as an organisation and guides everything we do. It is also underpinned by a set of values that has truly stood the test of time. The business has evolved from being a health insurance administrator, to offering long-term and short-term insurance, investment and now we’ve diversified into banking too. That evolution has been quite complex but brought together by our “shared value model” which is the common thread throughout all of these businesses.

2. What is the top priority for your business in the next five years, and how is that supported by people and technology?

Over the years, we’ve worked on, and continue to work on, enhancing our value proposition through shared value. The model is undoubtedly gaining in relevance and is exponentially enabled through technological developments such as AI. For example, previously, one of the benefits our members received was a discount when they went to the gym and the model encouraged them to keep going. But we didn’t always know what you were doing once you were inside the gym. Now, through developments such as wearable devices that monitor your activity and at a big data level understanding the impact of activity for individuals similar to you, we can be far more bespoke and help manage your health and any risks that you might be facing at an individualised level.

Most risk is driven by behaviour. Technology and brilliant people help us understand the relationship between behaviour and risk and incentivise in a way that is beneficial and sustainable.

3. With the adoption of automation, are you seeing a move towards greater freedom of thought?

Finance has become more than just number keepers. Now we are diligent caretakers and business partners. But we can’t be that without addressing the basics in a more efficient way and driving a greater degree of sophistication in our insight and business partnering role. So technology is helping us take a quantum leap forward in our roles.

And it doesn’t only apply to finance, because the CFO’s role often also encompasses areas such as compliance, risk management and ethics management. To keep up with those rapidly changing environments, you need to embrace technology.

4. Do you have any advice for other CFOs who are looking to integrate their teams with technology?

Changing things, particularly in finance, comes with significant time disruption and cost, so you need to make sure it’s the right time and place to invest in technology.

As an example, while you may not yet have AI in your finance environment, be sure that you are already making plans to get there and as a minimum ensure the integrity and accessibility of data, because data will become your biggest business asset.

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