Jaco van Wyk on being the CEO’s business partner

RMB CFO Jaco van Wyk has FirstRand blood running through his veins after spending 18 years with the company.

For RMB CFO Jaco van Wyk, the best thing about RMB is its open, inclusive culture and the people you work with: “The company has an engaging and caring culture that values people exceptionally highly. People are not hung up on titles. We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he adds.

Jaco has a long history with the FirstRand Group, and serves it now from his CFO desk at RMB. He was the head of group finance and the CFO of FirstRand’s Corporate Centre before moving to RMB. “FirstRand is a truly diverse organisation with lots of opportunity if you are up to the challenge. I’ve had the privilege of working with smart, inspirational people and have had a range of challenging and stimulating roles,” he says explaining his long tenure.

He has spent just over seven months at RMB, where he is responsible for an excellent 200-person strong finance team across the various business units and the central finance team. In his role he is actively involved with the client-facing pieces of the business, including private equity, banking and markets.

He is proud of RMB’s record as a good corporate citizen. FirstRand spends 1% net profit after tax on CSI partnerships. These include investments in education, training and skills development, specifically in support of the creative economy. RMB also funds the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme, a student funding model formed by the government and the private sector to support poor and ‘missing middle’ tertiary education students.

Jaco is a CA (SA) with a BCom Accountancy from the University of Stellenbosch and a BCom Accountancy Honours from the University of Johannesburg.

A business partner
As the CFO of RMB, Jaco sees himself as a business partner to CEO James Formby. This means having a forward-looking outlook rather than simply recording past performance. He sees a key responsibility of a finance leader to be that of business enablement. “The role of finance is changing from primarily being a custodian of financial management and regulatory performance to playing a much stronger role in being a strategic leader shaping the business,” comments Jaco.

He predicts that the finance function of the future will evolve to include a wider skill set. These include data scientists and data engineers as well as other skills complementary to core finance skills. Tomorrow’s finance professional needs to also be comfortable with analysis and scenario planning.

Jaco believes that a successful career in finance requires building up a knowledge base outside of a core finance role. This means developing business know-how to be able to converse on a wide range of topics outside of finance. “The key thing to have is a positive attitude to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. As a finance professional, you have the privileged position of understanding other disciplines within the organisation. You need to make the most of this.”

Resilience despite uncertainty
RMB adapted well to the Covid-19 lockdown and thanks to technology the operations ran smoothly. For Jaco, managing a remote team has been an interesting learning experiment. The budget and financial year end was managed remotely relying on tools such as WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams.

“While productivity was up and people worked incredibly hard, it was difficult to keep the human connection going. We had to be very intentional about making contact with colleagues. Initially people struggled to separate the workday from the non-workday,” says Jaco.

Jaco predicts a slow return to the office in 2021 as we face a possible second wave of infection after the December holiday period. A hybrid model of working at home and the office is likely to be the new normal for the bank.

The local banking sector took strain during the lockdown with Covid-19 accentuating the volatility of bank earnings. RMB’s financial results show that the bank proactively partnered with clients impacted by Covid-19 to develop funding, liquidity and risk management solutions. The bank provided assistance to clients through direct funding and payment and covenant waivers.

A flair for cooking
Outside of finance, Jaco enjoys cycling, travelling, good wine and food, skiing and reading with his wife, Belinda. He is especially interested in Italian food and spends time poring over recipe books. “I love food and experimenting in the kitchen. If I see a recipe I like, I will follow it 80 percent and improvise 20 percent,” he remarks.

While Jaco reads the financial press to stay informed he likes nothing better than to kick back with a biography. He reads biographies across the spectrum from business leaders, sports heroes to historical figures. Favourites include Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and Anton Rupert’s Anton Rupert: A Biography. He is also fascinated by learning more about the second World War through books.