Finance Indaba Conversation reveals that CFOs need to forge deeper connections

CFOs discuss how they can add value to their organisations during a Finance Indaba Conversation.

In a Finance Indaba Conversation themed The New Accountant, sponsored by ACCA, Nico Esterhuizen, CFO at JAM international shared that in every single organisation he has worked, there have always been challenges.

He painted a picture of what they are currently faced with at JAM in Angola and the challenges they have to work through.

“Angola is on the brink of a food security and nutrition crisis because of the ongoing drought. More than 1.3 million are facing severe hunger, and the main drivers of malnutrition have been poverty, hunger, malaria and poor access to water and sanitation. Furthermore, there are few hospitals that treat malnutrition.”

Nico said this is very emotionally taxing and draining for their accountants, so they have a rotation plan where they give each other some time off the field clinics, to make sure they keep sane.

“I was in Kenya not so long ago and we had a discussion about the severity of the situation on the ground and it hit me so hard. We sit here as accountants in the back office, but what else can we do, and what is our value-add?”

Forging a deeper connection
Nico said one of the key ways he and his team have found to add value is to have a deeper connection with the purpose and vision of the organisation itself.

“The connection to organisational and personal purpose unlocks value-add even in a tough work environment,” he said. “Without a purpose and vision, a leader cannot function and cope with the complexities of our business.”

He added that when operating with purpose, businesses own the criteria for success and are focused on objectives beyond the task, job role or immediate business. “Purpose echoes our passion, and values; and steers us.”

Invest in yourself
Nico explained that the are so many changes and demands in today’s world of work, and highlighted ACCA’s seven capabilities needed by professional accountants:

  • Expertise
  • Insight
  • Ethics
  • Sustainability
  • Digital
  • Collaboration
  • Drive

He said these linked with adding value, and investing in yourself is important to add value to your organisation.

“Invest in your personal wellness and leadership. Emotional intelligence is critical in today’s changing business environment, so leaders need to upskill and reskill and also, avoid avoidance.”

In conversation
Pieter de Wit, CFO at Afrimat, said accountants should stop being accountants and bean counters. “What I mean by that is that we are trying to write up the books and report on historical figures and the world is now changing so rapidly. It used to work in the past, but you can’t do that in the current reality.

“I agree with what Nico said that as accountants we need to add value to assist the organisation to navigate through the turmoil and changes in the current times. And we need to help the business to be able to forecast what will happen in the future, using predictive analytics.”

Jo-Ann Pohl, CFO at iOCO said that Nico’s presentation struck a chord with her. “As finance professionals, we’re not limited to reporting on the hard numbers. We need to stop saying no and stop saying yes – because modern finance professionals have shifted our reputation from that finance function of being the bean counter, and the perceived handbrake in the business.

“It’s about not saying no to risky investments and to spend what’s required for forward momentum. And when we shift the language to yes, it’s to ensure that we’ve considered options that allow us to focus on agility and adaptability.”

She added that the aim really should be to evaluate – not eliminate – risk.

Thuli Manyoha, financial director at Old Mutual Insure, said, “I think the new accountant needs to understand what car they are driving: do you have a car with a diffuser, low suspension – are you taking a car that you should be driving at the Kyalami racetrack to the bush? In that case, you’ve got a fundamental problem.

“As a new accountant, it is really appreciating the lay of the land and understanding the organisation and industry within which you operate, and then, most importantly, invest in yourself. Understand yourself and your own abilities in the environment within which you operate.”

Lucas Ndala, CFO at BCX, said one of the key things for accountants becoming a trusted adviser to the business? “We are sitting on a lot of repository information and there are so many relational insights that one can build with that information. We need to ask ourselves how we start to provide valuable and informative information to businesses that can assist in making informed decision-making.”

Lucas also highlighted that the other critical skill accountants need to learn is how to handle conflict and how to mediate, because we tend to be in a lot of instances between the various chiefs where they don’t see eye-to-eye.

“What will take people forward is if they are in unison and are headed in the same direction,” he concluded.