Knowledge is power, says NCR CFO Ayanda Mafuleka

“Everything I do is informed by risk. At any given time, we try to manage risk – be it business, financial or other. The NCR’s approach is that it takes risk management very seriously,” says Ayanda Mafuleka, chief financial officer of the National Credit Regulator (NCR), which falls under the Department of Trade and Industry (dti). Ayanda’s role includes overseeing the financial health of the organisation and ensuring that it complies with all the financial management-related legislation, as well as overseeing supply chain management and information technology (IT). A firm believer in the value of education, Ayanda is currently doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Auditing and recently applied at Unisa for an LLB. “I’m passionate about legislation and compliance. I was made to be a lawyer.”

During your tenure at NCR, you achieved a clean audit for the 1st time for 2014-2015, and also maintained a clean audit opinion in 2015-2016. Tell us about this.
"I'm a very hands-on CFO and I'm very driven. Our CFO from the dti, Shabeer Khan, has been driving this through the whole department. So, where we have to have a clean audit, we call it a clean audit implementation plan, where you take all the challenges and findings from the audit that were raised by the AG and come up with a strategy plan of how to resolve those issues. I did that within the four months. So, I had a plan and with my team we set about resolving things. I must say, getting buy-in from your colleagues at exec level really helps. They supported the plan from beginning to end."

What changes have you made while you've been in this role?
"I joined the NCR towards end of 2014, so I had four months to prepare the organisation for the financial year end. We achieved a clean audit for that year, 2014-2015. There were findings that related to asset management, so one of the systems I implemented was an automated system to account for assets previously accounted for manually. So, electronically verifying our assets. With IT, I was instrumental in fast-tracking the implementation of the ICT governance framework as per the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) guidelines. That allowed us to get a clean audit."

"The payments system - paying invoices within 30 days - can be a challenge in the public sector. Here we've been able to get it right because we've implemented a system that says, instead of paying within 30 days, let's pay within 20 days, so that all our payments are made on time."

"Also, I've tried to upskill the team, because some of the challenges have included limited skills in the team. So, I've made some informal training available. I'm a very hands-on team leader and engage with even the junior members of the team."

What are the most valuable lessons you've learnt in this role?
"Stand your ground and knowledge is power. Also, never compromise your values and principles. Once you appreciate a piece of legislation you are able to walk the talk. That's very important because people don't do what you say, they learn from how you do things."

"In the public sector, yes we see values being put under strain or compromised. But whatever I do has to be informed by legislation. Fortunately, finance, procurement and IT, to a certain extent, are in a space that forces us to comply and adhere to standards. So, whatever I procure, goods or services, is informed by prescribed legislation e.g. PFMA, Treasury regulations.

What does the NCR's risk management plan look like? What is your approach to risk management?
"Everything I do is informed by risk. At any given time, we try to manage risk - be it business, financial or other. The NCR's approach is that it takes risk management very seriously. Thus, on a quarterly basis, my team and I identify risks and come up with risk mitigating controls. We have a risk register where we look at the strategic and operational risks and monitor them, and come up with ways to eliminate them."

Let's talk about human capital development and capacity building. How do you approach this? What is your personal style of leadership like? Do you enjoy being a leader?
"I'm very passionate about empowerment. I'm a nurturing leader. I believe I am where I am because someone believed in me and empowered me. How do I build capacity? The budget is an issue, so we might not go for formal training, but I encourage my team to study and we also have informal capacity building initiatives. I'm not an IT person, but I have trained my staff on IT governance principles. We are lucky now because so much information is available on the internet. I also have an open-door policy because I want to get the best out of each individual."

In your previous role, you were the GM Financial Accounting at Jhb City Parks & Zoo. What learnings or lessons did you take from that role into this one?
"What was different was the environment, the operations. At the Zoo, we were dealing with the parks and open spaces, and management of the animals. What was so interesting about it was that our assets were not only the desks and chairs and computers, but also the zoo animals. So I had to understand through the curators, who had to school me on how to account for the animals, what is the depreciation for the lions and the reptiles, for instance. Also, when these animals give birth, how I accounted for the babies - what is the market value of the babies, for instance. The only animals that we couldn't get into our asset register and which we had to put as R1 were the vultures, because there's no value for them. So, understanding the operations was very different!"

What do you most enjoy about the CFO role? What do you find most frustrating or challenging about it?
"This role has really evolved. It's no longer about numbers and focussing on your financial statements; it's a strategic position. It's unfortunate that some organisations don't realise this.
I get a bird's eye view of the entity and I'm involved in the strategy development, as well as operations. For me to allocate budget I need to understand the needs of the organisation. I'm privileged to be a CFO because I work hand in hand with the CEO and other execs. Because what they do also has a financial impact."

"The CFO is not always the most-liked person because you are the one cracking the whip when it comes to finances. So, I know I've been nicknamed Pravin Gordhan because I always say there's no budget. It has been challenging to communicate this and make the business understand that, at the end of the day, we need a clean slate as far as financial management is concerned."

How did you come to pursue a career in the finance industry? Was it always your plan?
"No. Initially I wanted to be a lawyer. The OJ Simpson case really sparked an interest for law. My issue was that I stutter. I asked myself, what could be another career where I won't be doing as much talking but which I could do well? In 1996 I was in Grade 11 and came across a career guidance book donated to our school by Anglo-American. I paged through it and saw CA. It was more about numbers than talking. I decided this was what I was going to do. I didn't even do accounting at school, I did science subjects. I applied for a B.Com. It was difficult but I don't have any regrets."
"I recently applied at Unisa for an LLB because I still want to do law. I'm so passionate about legislation and compliance. So, I find myself reading a lot of that. I was made to be a lawyer."

You describe yourself as 'a normal girl from Umlazi township who dared to dream!' Tell me about your upbringing and family, and how you got onto this path. Did you have any role models growing up?
"I love reading. I come from humble beginnings. I'm a Pisces so I love to dream and to project the future. My role model was Nonkululeko Gobodo - the first black female CA. I got to know about her when I was in my first year of varsity. Before varsity I wasn't sure what I wanted to be. My grandmothers were my role models in their own way, and most of the learning and values, and who I am today, is because of them."

"My maternal grandmother was not educated at all and has never worked in her life, but what I learnt from her is invaluable. I learnt reading at an early age because I didn't know then that she couldn't read. She pretended she couldn't see so I used to read the Bible to her. She belonged to stokvels and used to ask me to check things for her. She taught me responsibility at an early age. I wasn't aware of that at that time. She was a dressmaker and I would go with her to sell the dresses and would be her money collector. That helped me to ensure I was wise with money, which has helped me in this career. I was a mini-entrepreneur through my grandmother but wasn't aware of it."

"My paternal grandmother was a nurse and I saw ambition through her. One day she told me I needed to do better than her. She said I couldn't be a nurse, so I said I would then be a doctor. She fuelled my achievements. She sent me to a good school, a Catholic school, with her retirement money. She paid my school fees. She was educated and taught me the importance of education."

What keeps you busy outside of work? How do you relax and unwind?
"I'm an introvert. I'm an indoor person. I have three kids - two daughters (15 and four) and a son (five). During the week, it's NCR time but over weekends I like spending time with them. Weekends are for my family. On Sundays, we go to church - I'm a Christian before anything else. I like reading and subscribe to various magazines. I've also joined my daughter playing chess - she's a chess champion and she's giving me lessons."