Competition Tribunal's Devrani Moonsamy: A well-rounded finance professional with big dreams

Chatting to Devrani Moonsamy is like inhaling a deep breath of air after the rain. She is currently head of finance at the Competition Tribunal and is involved in delivering on the public sector promise of ensuring clean audits across the public sector.

Competition Tribunal head of finance Devrani Moonsamy’s experience draws from a range of government and public sector entities. After graduating from the University of KZN with a B.Com in accounting, she joined the Auditor-General, where she gained invaluable experience performing the external audits of annual financial statements and performance reports of government departments. 

Then, after staying with that body for a further two years after completing articles, she felt a strong inclination to once again improve public sector reporting.

“Clean audit opinions in the public sector are a reflection of our government spending tax money in the most efficient and effective way. I’ve achieved this in the three public entities where I’ve been employed thus far and I become involved with other bodies to accomplish this beyond my current role in order to increase the percentage of clean audits in the country, thereby increasing public confidence,” she says. 

First she was involved in the finance and procurement divisions for Boxing SA and later moved to the Competition Commission of SA, before taking up her current position in October 2016. 

The work of a competitive economy 

The Competition Tribunal is an independent adjudicative body established to regulate two broad areas of competition – mergers and acquisitions on the one hand and prohibited practices on the other. All matters brought before the tribunal are conducted like a court hearing with pleadings, discovery, witness statements and a trial that includes examination, cross examination and legal arguments. These hearings are open to the public.
 
Competition regulation plays an important role with regard to addressing the abuse of economic power by dominant firms and in addressing past inequalities and increasing the access of small businesses and those owned by previously disadvantaged persons in the national economy.
 
While the support of small business is undoubtedly important, no country can operate ‘like an island’. This is especially true during the recent Covid-19 lockdown where keeping up essential supply is of top priority.

Studying and working 

In her professional life, Devrani is extremely motivated. “I chose ACCA due to their open access model, which recognises prior learning and allows for admission pathways into the qualification based on one’s relevant prior learning and experience. This is a bonus and allows for the flexibility to balance between work, family and studying.”

This works for Devrani since the online student support offers assistance in terms of learning material, technical articles and study methods. She also regularly receives emails containing relevant material. Another reason is ACCA’s worldwide recognition and global footprint which allows for mobility in the unfortunate event should she wish to relocate outside of South Africa. 

“ACCA builds my knowledge on the latest accounting and auditing standards and this helps me in my drive toward improving the quality of financial reporting in the public sector and contributing towards an increase in the number of clean audits in the country. And I’m determined to play a role in achieving these ambitions,” she explains. 

ACCA has assisted this professional to gain the knowledge and skills required to contribute and provide assistance on public value projects run by National Treasury, Accounting Standards Board, Caseware Africa and CFO SA relating to improving the quality of financial reporting. Some of the projects include ASB roundtables providing input towards creating guidelines to complex accounting standards to make understanding of the standards simpler; the evaluation of whether a separate standard for smaller entities in the public sector is required; and sharing knowledge and skills with other finance professionals via the CFO SA platforms.

Finding time to ‘just be’ 

While no one would argue with the fact that Devrani is playing a vital role in the organisation where she works, her heart remains firmly with her family.

A day in the life of Devrani starts with getting her son and daughter ready and dropping them off at school. Once at the office, she sets her priorities for the day, responding to emails, and then proceeds to meetings with the COO and the rest of the management team. All of which require financial input and effort. 

“As a mother, my first priority is to my family. I devote all my spare time to them, making sure they have fun. My husband and I love having the kids since they make our lives more adventurous and joyful. We love going on holiday together, exploring South Africa and other countries too.” 
On weekends they make sure they go on fun outings with family and friends to theme parks, movies or the zoo for example, exploring our city and spending quality time together. She adds “there’s never a dull moment in our family.” 

At the end of a long day, Devrani goes home to her husband and kids. She sees to supper, homework, bath time and bedtime before settling down to some studying once they are asleep.

Work and play 

When asked what she does to relax and stay healthy, Devrani admits that she has never really enjoyed exercise but lately it’s become increasingly important to her. 

“In addition to the evident physical benefits, with the positive contribution towards my mental health and the boost to my performance both at work and at home, exercise has become a cornerstone to bringing my family together. The time spent engaging in physical activities as a unit has helped lessen my guilt over the time spent away from family to focus on work.

“At least once in six months, I plan a getaway for my husband and me – it’s important for our own relationship to reflect on and plan. I also use some of that time to be alone to reflect on my individual goals and plans.”

What also really works for Devrani is having a monthly one-on-one dinner date with either her mentors, mentees, prior colleagues or friends in the same industry to share experiences and bounce off new ideas with like-minded people.

Team at the centre of everything 

“Throughout the day, I usually spend one to two hours supervising and helping my staff. This ensures that work is performed efficiently and that objectives will be met. This helps me identify areas where there is room for improvement or assistance needed to provide the necessary outputs on time and accurately. My goal is always to help my team find solutions wherever possible.”

She also spends about two hours per day preparing her own reports and other documents requested by executive management. No day is complete without taking some time to keep up to date with regulations, standards, news and other relevant information.

When asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of work, Devrani’s opinion is clear: “It has certainly pushed us towards complete digitalisation and has driven organisations to explore and take advantage of technology available such as digital signatures, virtual meetings and remote connections to the server in order to continue day-to-day business during the lockdown.” 

The Competition Tribunal has been able to achieve this and credit should go to all other organisations that have done so too.

“I certainly salute organisations that are creating systems to make the finance industry much simpler and digital. I am pleased to be offered the opportunity to pilot new software being developed by CaseWare Africa to the audit process from the perspective of the client. This will allow me to use my skills and knowledge as an auditor and auditee to contribute to creating efficiency in the audit process.”

The digital march continues 

Full digitalisation has benefitted the tribunal immensely and now allows for the ability to sign documents wherever and whenever, and save documents on shared folders instead of printing them. 

“This has created the Holy Grail of a paperless environment with the added benefit of making processes more efficient and cost effective overall. I encourage all organisations to continue the digital transformation even after the pandemic is over, moving towards a more digitalised finance and a more digitalised world,” she adds. 

Parting lessons 

Devrani describes her management style as democratic or participative. “Even though I will make the final decision, I prefer to have my team involved in the process, sharing their thoughts and ideologies before a decision is taken. It’s very important to have your teams buy-in and support for any decisions taken as you need your people to implement these decisions. 

“My experience has shown me that employees do not react well to decisions taken without their involvement which makes the implementation of such decisions challenging to say the least as a general consensus employees switch off as they feel that they are not valued.”

In conclusion, Devrani shares two important things that she’s learnt on her professional journey: people management is a vital skill in ensuring the success of an organisation. “You need a good balance of both technical and people skills at a senior level. It’s important to know that every person cannot be managed in the same way as they have their own personality, beliefs and attitudes. People management is about getting to know your people and understand how best to manage them in order to meet the team objectives.”

Secondly, she is solution driven. She always believes in finding a solution to a problem, no dead-ends. She asks her team to come to her with their problem and possible solutions. This empowers and supports them in making decisions and resolving matters quickly in order to achieve objectives. 

Since the beginning of her career she has carried the famous Henry Ford quote: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is a skill. Working together is success.”  She attributes her success to this quote. 

There’s no question that Devrani will achieve both her professional and personal goals given her can-do attitude – and she’ll do it all with a smile.