JAM CFO Nico Esterhuizen: Accounting professionals need to stay ahead of the curve

The ACCA-qualified NPO NGO reflects on the benefits of a global accounting qualification.

Since the dawn of time man has searched for meaning and technology. This is especially true for Africa where the first tools were created. Yes, they make life easier, but we can never lose sight of the value of the operator. Nico Esterhuizen, the ACCA-qualified CFO of Joint Aid Management (JAM) International, an African-founded international NGO, reflects on why this is especially true today. 

While the migration to a digital future has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is appropriate to reflect that every device created was first designed by a human brain. All software and hardware updates first originate with talented humans. 

Likewise, accounting skills are like computers awaiting instructions from a well-trained individual with a global outlook. Which is why a qualification from a global professional accountancy organisation – such as the ACCA – is increasingly important.  

“The ACCA programme is designed by employers, for employers from all sectors across the globe. It’s a global accounting qualification, with comprehensive practical experience requirements, underpinned by ethics in all aspects of the syllabus, and gives employers the confidence to trust individuals who have achieved it,” says Nico.

The move to the non-profit space
After spending more than 18 years in the insurance industry, including almost four years at Discovery, then moving to the humanitarian space, Nico required the competencies, confidence and skills to ensure a smooth transition, which he believes his ACCA qualification provides. 

Over the years he has built a well-rounded skillset, including, finalising a Master of Philosophy in leadership in emerging economies from the University of Johannesburg and holding a Master of Science in accountancy (with distinction) from the University of London. He qualified as an ACCA Fellow Chartered Certified Accountant in 2011. 

This dedication to self-education and continually sharpening his skills allows him to contribute to supporting our growing but nevertheless fragile economy. 

Humanitarian response to COVID-19 
Nico joined JAM International in January 2020, knowing that it would be a challenging environment, but he didn’t anticipate that the Covid-19 crisis put him on a collision course with a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

JAM International is one of the relief organisations charged with providing vital feeding schemes to children and societies most vulnerable in South African and beyond our borders. A silver lining that Nico sees to the crisis is that South Africans are now more aware of the scourge of inequality, and the need to lend a helping hand, when times are tough. 

This healthcare crisis has seen him working both around the clock and with a wide spectrum of stakeholders. This includes interacting with private and public sector leaders, local government officials, volunteers and the most destitute in South Sudan seeking their next bowl of food. 

Education is for life
Ongoing education in a fast-changing world remains critical to Nico and the team he leads. This is especially true in a non-profit where stakeholders including funders rely on accurate and transparent financials. 

“Accounting professionals need to stay ahead of the curve. The ACCA Professional Insights team regularly conducts extensive research with industry leaders and C-suite individuals to keep qualifications relevant – allowing us to weather the challenges and ‘black swan events’ such as Covid-19,” adds Nico. 

Designed with the employer in mind – across all sectors – the ACCA framework provides graduates with 12 vital competencies to become a valuable bottom-line contributor. These include key areas such as IFRS and business reporting, audit and assurance, advisory and consultancy, strategy and innovation, leadership and management, stakeholder relationship management, governance, risk and control, financial management, management accounting, taxation, ethics and professionalism and data, digital and technology. 

This is especially true under current conditions of extreme uncertainty and anxiety fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, where leaders need to focus on sustainability and let the operators keep the engine room going. 

The operator unlocks it all 
Digital and data technology is embedded into each aspect of the ACCA qualification. The syllabus is continuously updated to include the latest developments. Computer-based exams using live office tools such as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, to ensure that individuals become immediately productive when they are hired.

We face a world where the drivers of change shaping the future of accounting include digital technologies, increased regulation and stronger governance as well as increased expectations from executive leaders to deliver strategic insights that go beyond the number crunching. 

As a forward-thinking CFO, Nico embraces these predictions, but also realises that qualified graduates who have access to continued education opportunities as the lifeblood of any well-run organisation. 

They are the brains that know where to allocate resources. They use their digital devices and software where they were meant to be employed – as the servants of humans. Exactly where they belong.