CFO of the Week: Vuyo Mafata (UIF): investing billions for the unemployed

“What makes me get out of bed in the morning is the contribution that I think I can make to the plight of the unemployed in South Africa,” says Vuyo Mafata, CFO at the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). In this interview Mafata talks about the challenges of being a CFO in a governmental organisation and the exciting responsibility he has of managing an investment portfolio of more than R100 billion.

Mafata has been with the UIF since 2005 and has worked as CFO since 2012. He clearly is someone who knows to spend money. "We pay out between R30 million and R35 million a day," he says. "That amounts to R7 billion per year." But he also knows how to collect it, receiving almost R15 billion from employers on an annual basis through the assistance of the South African Revenue Services. Mafata says supply chain management and financial reporting are high on his agenda, but it's the investment space that really makes his heart beat faster.

"I think that is where I contribute the most," says Mafata, speaking about their impressive investment portfolio. "We are still at a low level of maturity and as a government institution we use the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) as our investment managers, but the UIF is trying to play an increasingly active role. We used to be very passive at the UIF and we always invested in the safest areas. Now we are trying to be a bit more daring, which is an exciting prospect for me as CFO."

Since the UIF is a government institution, questions about reporting standards are inescapable. Mafata is happy to answer these. "I am proud that the UIF has a pretty clean administration. We have demonstrated that by receiving unqualified audits in the last five years, with the last four years being clean audits. In the public sector that is quite an achievement," he says.

Mafata says a large element of the success of the Finance team of the UIF is the responsibility its members take for their tasks. "We get everyone to own their working space and take ownership of what they do. Audit is something that takes place at the end of the year, but I tell my staff to look at everything they do on a daily basis from the perspective of the audit; they need to looks at the implications their daily actions will have for our audit. And of course, the most important thing is that nobody should do things that can bring the UIF into disrepute."

Keen to learn from other finance leaders, Mafata is a staunch supporter of networking and knowledge platform CFO South Africa. "No one can be an island," he says. "I find it very important to hear peers sharing experiences and best practices. That helps me to grow as an individual and as a CFO. From colleagues in the private sector we can learn technical skills, but also leadership. For public entities it can be hard to attract skills, especially for positions that are a few steps down from the top."

Mafata feels there is a lot for him to learn. "In the next three years I want to build more capacity in the investment space, so the UIF can get even better at managing its billions. I also want to build more capacity in the Finance team. Most of the people have either joined the UIF some time ago, which means some skills required are different now, or they are brand new. We work with personal development plans to make sure people stay up-to-date."

According to the CFO, the UIF is an incredibly interesting environment for a CA and he calls on young people to consider the organisation's merits. "The exposure that people get at the UIF is slightly different from other public entities. That is the reason the best employees do get poached, but that is not a problem as such. It is to the staff's benefit to get upskilled so they can meet challenges and help us grow. Working in a public institution has a developmental role. We work on growing a better South Africa. We are also starting to look into increasing our procurement from-companies owned by previously disadvantaged individuals and small businesses. That way we can help create a market for small businesses so they can create jobs. It should be every South African's responsibility to work towards a better South Africa, whether you are in the public or private sector."