Leading public sector CFOs say they need a mixed bag of skills to deliver

Effective public sector CFOs need innovation, commitment and a good understanding of their customer needs.

Beyond the organisational skills and ethics expected of a CFO, public sector CFOs need a broad range of additional skills and attributes to be truly effective.

This is according to leading public sector CFOs who were speaking during the second day of the Finance Indaba in Sandton this week.

eThekwini treasurer and 2018 Public Sector CFO at the Year Krish Kumar, and Department of Social Development CFO Clifford Appel said the effective public sector CFO needed to operate like they were running a business, with a clear understanding of what their customers – the citizens – needed, and a commitment to deliver.

Clifford said:

“The CFO needs to be innovative and creative in finding solutions to challenges, and crucially – they must clearly define the needs of the customer and have insight into the environment. People in finance might not understand that it’s a totally different world out there. The levels of poverty are immense, and in some isolated areas people don’t even know how to go about applying for grants. You have to go into the environment – visit the communities, to understand the needs of the communities and the impact your financial decisions will have. Having a clear understanding of the situation on the ground makes you more committed and innovative in addressing community needs.”

Krish noted that eThekwini efforts to meet the needs of its communities had seen the introduction of innovations such as free basic water and rebates and exemptions for basic electricity made possible in part by the city’s sound fiscal discipline and focus on effective collections. While striving to meet immediate community needs, he believes it is important to take a longer-term view at the same time, particularly around sustainable business and climate change efforts.

“We need to foster more innovation around energy saving solutions, for example.”

Clifford added that the modern public sector CFO also had to be prepared to challenge the status quo where necessary:

“Sometimes you have to take a stand where you see something is not in the country’s best interests, or where there is no ROI.”