CFO Raisibe Morathi, CFO of the Year 2023 and winner of the Strategy Execution Award as well as the High-Performance Team Award, reveals how she balances technology and people to foster the ultimate digital, financial and cultural inclusion, as Vodacom Group transforms to become part of the digital revolution.
In the ever-evolving landscape of digital connectivity, the line between telecommunications and technology is becoming increasingly blurred. For Raisibe Morathi, CFO of Vodacom Group, CFO of the Year and winner of the Strategy Execution Award, as well as the High-Performance Team Award at the 2023 CFO Awards, this transformation is not just a strategic shift, it’s a relentless pursuit of innovation and connectivity.
“It’s all about connectivity, and once people have been connected, we then explore what their digital and lifestyle needs are.” From mobile connectivity to smartphones and the internet of things, Vodacom is intricately woven into the fabric of daily existence,” she says.
Evidencing this transition is that Vodacom’s service revenue of R120 billion is now 20 percent from beyond-mobile connectivity services, such as fintech, fixed connectivity, digital lifestyle services and the Internet of Things, amongst others.
On the back of a successful Visionary CFO Series in 2021 and 2022, A2X has once again partnered with CFO South Africa to bring you a series of interviews highlighting South Africa’s best and brightest CFOs, their insights and challenges. Find out how they help lead some of South Africa’s most successful companies in this bi-weekly interview series.
Finance as the backbone of innovation
As a market leader with a substantial revenue and market share, Raisibe is proud that Vodacom has evolved its revenue mix successfully, despite the company only being 29 years old. She says finance plays a pivotal role in funding the gap between Vodacom’s current position and its ambitious goals for the future. “This requires continued investment in innovation and technological evolution to stay ahead of competitors and meet customers’ ever-changing demands.”
Effective financial management is also crucial in supporting Vodacom’s expansion plans. As the company grows, it needs to invest in new infrastructure and platforms, expand its network coverage, and accelerate new lines of business. These endeavours require substantial capital, and proper financial management to ensure that Vodacom can seize growth opportunities while maintaining financial stability.
With a capital expenditure of R16 billion each year (14 percent of its total revenue), Vodacom puts its money where its mouth is, covering eight markets in Africa. Its Cape to Cairo journey covers South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, the DRC, Mozambique, Lesotho and Ethiopia.
“It is no small feat,” Raisibe says. “Vodacom has the highest market share in each market where it operates both as a telecommunications and fintech giant, the only exception being Ethiopia where the business was launched 10 months ago and is one of two players.”
Vodacom’s trading brands in fintech, VodaPay and M-PESA, are also undisputed market leaders. M-PESA also recently launched in Ethiopia, which is set to boost levels of financial inclusion in Africa’s second most populous country.
She says, “In addition to funding growth, finance also plays a vital role in managing risks. As Vodacom operates in a dynamic and competitive industry, it faces various financial risks, such as currency fluctuations, interest rate changes, and regulatory challenges. By employing sound financial strategies, Vodacom continues to effectively manage and where needed mitigate these risks and safeguard its profitability.”
Raisibe ensures this transformation is executed with care because it requires a delicate balance between maintaining financial stability and fueling technological growth. As such, she must play an active role in the strategic transformation of Vodacom, ensuring that the company’s financial stability is not compromised while driving innovation.
Utilising data for insights
Raisibe leads a team in Vodacom Group that is tasked with making sure that the full 4IR aspects of big data, AI, RPA, machine learning, data and analytics, as well as business insights are core to its operations.
Whilst not claiming to be a fundi in this area, she is proud to lead these teams. She believes it’s her responsibility not only to grasp the financial and commercial impacts of 4IR projects, but also to cultivate a culture where data-driven choices are not just endorsed, but integral to the company’s identity.
This is evidenced by Vodacom’s detailed customer value management engines, enabling roughly 60 percent of its product to be sold as a personalised offering. “This shows the success through which we are able to monetise data – a journey that many other companies are still grappling with,” Raisibe says.
“As the leader of the big data and business analytics team, a cornerstone of our company, I am acutely aware of the pivotal role that data plays in shaping our organisation’s success. In an era where information reigns supreme, our industry has evolved to become increasingly data-centric, where harnessing the potential of big data is not just a strategy but a necessity.”
Her strategic insight, financial acumen, and cross-functional collaboration are the cornerstones upon which the data-centric organisation stands, enabling a future where innovation and analytics converge for unprecedented growth.
“Within this dynamic landscape, our team operates at the intersection of innovation and business acumen, with a unique split between data science and business insights.” According to Raisibe, the symbiotic relationship between these two realms is evident as big data encompasses 80 percent data science and 20 percent business insights, while business analytics reverses the proportions to focus on 80 percent business insights and 20 percent data science.
She says, “At the heart of our endeavours lies a singular mission: to meticulously analyse the vast ocean of data we collect, thereby infusing intelligence into every decision we make. Our unwavering commitment to this mission has borne remarkable fruit, as evidenced by the impressive statistic that 60 percent of our sales stem from products tailored precisely to individual preferences. This, I firmly believe, is the power of data in action—allowing us to not only personalise our offerings but also gain profound insights into the intricate ways in which our customers utilise their devices. In doing so, we contribute significantly to the societal fabric by ensuring seamless digital inclusion.”
The transformative power of inclusivity
Raisibe is a strong supporter of diversity, connecting deeply with the company’s commitment to it. “As a global company, you will find a multitude of nationalities in our talent pool. This cultural diversity creates an environment where employees from the mighty Vodafone always learn from one another and gain a broader perspective on the world.
"Our meetings resound with diverse accents, which is something I find quite special.”
By bringing together individuals from different backgrounds, Vodacom Group creates an inclusive culture that encourages collaboration, creativity, and mutual respect.
Raisibe says that the group’s commitment to diversity is evident in its operations in African markets, where the company partners with local minority shareholders. “By working closely with local communities and businesses, we demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity and collaboration. This approach not only helps Vodacom to better understand the local markets but also fosters greater trust and respect among our stakeholders.”
The Vodacom Group also operates in intricate markets, each with its own set of regulations: “For instance, in the DRC, OHADA reporting standards are in effect, which differ slightly from the International Financial Reporting Standards. Similarly, Egypt and Ethiopia have their own accounting standards. As a result, it falls upon me to consolidate all these diverse standards into one unified framework for our organisation. Initially, we adhere to the Vodafone standard, which is based in the UK, and then we incorporate the relevant local laws.”
The financial services sector has more comprehensive regulatory frameworks, which also applies to the telecommunications company and Raisibe says this ensures that their operations maintain the highest level of integrity and professionalism. This is where her financial services background plays to her advantage.
Unlocking skills for success
“I thrive on fostering growth within individuals by pinpointing their potential areas for development," Raisibe says. Her strategic acumen is evident in instances like restructuring finance teams, where she orchestrated a transformational shift.
Raisibe’s leadership style is not just about leading: it’s about empowering her team to take charge. “I have the confidence to be away from the office, knowing my team can seamlessly step in,” she reveals. This approach not only fosters growth but also mitigates the risks associated with information silos.
Her impact extends beyond her team’s boundaries. “The innovative programme Vodacom South Africa initiated in collaboration with Duke University speaks volumes about our commitment to talent development. We recruit women from various companies for a six-month leadership programme where the candidates are immersed in technology, and many of these professionals find roles within Vodacom afterward,” Raisibe explains.
The programme’s success even garnered attention at a global scale, prompting replication in Europe under some of the operations in Vodafone.
Raisibe strongly believes that while talent may sometimes be innate, support is what drives people to succeed. So, in transitioning into a new environment, when the company offered her a coach from one of the leading institutions based in London, she grabbed that opportunity.
She adds that she also continues to benefit from many of Vodafone’s leadership development opportunities, despite being fairly new in the business.
This recognition inspired her to make coaching available to everyone in the organisation, and has seen her providing coaching to a number of her colleagues.
Nurturing emerging leaders
As a leader, Raisibe firmly believes that every individual deserves an equal shot at success, regardless of their background or experience.
“Coming from a minority group as a black woman, I know exactly what it’s like to be an outsider and what it takes to grab an opportunity as if it is your last day of living,” she says.
Through unwavering dedication, she’s unearthed the hidden brilliance within her team, sculpting them into remarkable leaders.
“During the pandemic, whilst still at Nedbank and upon joining Vodacom, I made it a priority to forge personal connections with my team, recognising that leadership’s essence extends far beyond the professional sphere,” Raisibe recalls. This conscious effort has fostered a community where productivity thrives hand-in-hand with support.
To Raisibe, leadership isn’t about standing above, but about raising others up. “I seek out growth areas within my team and propel them beyond their comfort zones,” she proclaims. Her leadership style, a blend of curiosity, inclusivity, and transparency, amplifies unheard voices and empowers junior members.
“The spirit survey reflects my commitment to transparency and constant enhancement,” she remarks, embodying a leader’s dedication to progress. “I have always volunteered a role of pioneering gender inclusivity in every organisation I’ve worked in, as I truly believe someone must do that job.”
Her dedication to empowerment and equality shines as a core element of her leadership values. “What truly counts are skills and potential, not just what limits may seem present,” she passionately states, underscoring her resolute stance on equal opportunities for every individual. With this perspective, she champions a more inclusive and equitable environment.