Miles Fisher, partner at Mazars: passion for audit
“As an auditor you have the opportunity to get exposure to numerous companies and industries,” says Miles Fisher, partner at audit and advisory firm Mazars. Fisher is a Chartered Accountant (SA) with a real passion for auditing and says he is always ‘lecturing’ young talent not to leapfrog into the business environment too soon. “People often don’t realise the massive learning opportunities the position of auditor offers.”
The biggest misunderstanding about auditing is that it has to be boring, says Fisher. “People think they’ll just be ticking off numbers, but as an auditor the sky is the limit and your day-to-day job can be much more practical than many people think.” Fisher has noticed that many talented youngsters leave the auditing space immediately after finishing their articles, only to end up in corporate jobs with very limited responsibilities. “As an auditor your exposure is far greater. You don’t need to be stuck behind your desk. If you ask a CFO to show you around their factory, they are usually happy to do so. Auditing can expose audit clerks to clients in varied industries where the management have many different leadership styles. The one CFO may be autocratic whilst another could have a very relaxed leadership style. That provides amazing opportunities to gain experience and learn.”
As a Partner at the firm, Fisher is a great believer in Mazars’ mentorship program, aimed at ‘keeping people in audit’ and entrenching the values of the firm. He acknowledges a big part of the program is bridging cultural gaps and understanding each other’s backgrounds. “For us it is important to develop personalities. Although we often discover that people from different backgrounds aren’t that different, we all come from different family environments. There are opportunities to learn about different personalities and cultures, thereby helping develop our peoples’ interpersonal skills and readying them for the corporate working world. Our mentorship program addresses all of these issues to ensure we turn out well-rounded business professionals.”
Mazars is one of the largest audit firms in South Africa and is part of an international organisation that offers services ranging from audit and accountancy to tax, legal and management advice. “We work with integrated practices,” Fisher explains. “In South Africa, we have twelve locations with more than 900 staff members, of which 89 are partners or directors. The interesting thing is that we are an international partnership. Our structures are different from most other firms and we have more of a community feel, I think. We sit everywhere around the world and can easily access international experience.”
Fisher feels Chief Financial Officers and Finance Directors have been under pressure lately, when dealing with audit practices like his own. “The biggest demand has been around value added services. Clients want more feedback about their systems and internal structures and controls. Lately, it has also been about efficiency and fee pressures. Companies are battling with the downturn in the economy, the margins are small and they are looking to change their processes. CEOs are looking for efficiencies and the pressure is on CFOs to find those.”
Of course, legislation does not allow auditors to provide advisory services to JSE-listed companies that they are involved in auditing. That means the value add space that Fisher plays in, is fairly limited. “When we walk in we look at the internal control structure of the finance department and we report on that at the end of the audit. There is a lot of competition on value add, but we have to be careful because of the legislation. There is a lot of competition in this field, so it is hard to compete on price alone which means we are looking at other ways to make the difference.”
The strong international cooperation within Mazars provides the firm with a competitive edge, says Fisher. “For example in the energy industry, we have specialists in the United Kingdom that we can call upon if required. We also have international experience with doing audits at Central Banks, which we can apply in South Africa.” Before joining Mazars six years ago, Fisher ran his own firm for a while. As one of the Johannesburg-based partners he now leads audit teams for a number of JSE-listed, owner managed and transnational clients. Fisher says. “We provide services to various industries in both the public and private sectors, and work with entities of varied types and sizes.”
Mazars also focuses more and more on the public sector in South Africa, explains Nazreen Pandor, Director of Business Development. “Recently, the Department of Treasury mentioned the skills transfer training that Mazars does in the public sector, which was a great endorsement. Our Mazars Academy offers blended learning (online and ‘classroom’ training) that is getting a lot of traction with government. As a South African firm, we don’t just want to be a consultant; we want to contribute to building up skills in the country; which happens to be a prerequisite when you do a public sector audit.”
One of Mazars’ goals is to “expand our advisory arm into the public sector”, says Pandor. “. We are based in 72 countries and we believe that our collective intelligence has a lot to offer to this country. For example, we have the Youth Employment Index, powered by Mazars. With that index we try to rally the private sector to employ more young people. It sets us apart from others, I believe. We’re always looking for new ways to work, which is why we have won the Audit Innovation award for our human rights audits in 2012 and an award for cultural innovation in 2013.”
As someone who appreciates innovation, Pandor commends the efforts of CFO South Africa to bring finance leaders together. "CFO South Africa is a crucial initiative," she says, adding that it contributes to the same goal that Mazars is working towards: a better South Africa. "When Chief Financial Officers and Finance Directors from the private and public sector come together to exchange knowledge, that can only benefit the country as a whole."
If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, you want to be part of the leading CFO South Africa Community or you want to know more about hosting a CFO South Africa event, you are most welcome to get in touch with CFO SA. Please contact Jurriën Morsch at [email protected]
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