National Treasury's Yvonne Soglo has a calling for public service
For ACCA-qualified Yvonne Soglo, no day in the job is the same in her role as director: provincial budget analysis at the National Treasury. Her responsibilities including supporting 12 finance teams in the Limpopo province to deliver on spending that matches their budgets.
For Yvonne, a day in the office starts with answering email queries and quickly reading up about what’s happening on the ground in Limpopo. Being informed is key to her success in providing support to 12 departments and five public entities with their various heads of departments and CFOs. She is also regularly called on to provide oversight on budget matters, procurement decisions, technical accounting issues and the financial and performance management of these various departments.
While based in Pretoria, she also spends a considerable amount of her time in Limpopo assessing spend against deliverables. A substantial part of her work is to monitor provincial departments expenditure and discuss remedial actions where necessary. This often means visiting sites where budget has been allocated. When spending does not meet expectations, Yvonne has to engage with departments and the Provincial Treasury to determine what the root cause is: “I spend much of my time in negotiations and consultation with various stakeholders. I’ve learnt how to deliver those not so nice messages. In my role, you have to get used to not being a popular person.”
She knows that each province has its unique challenges and spending priorities and it is not a case of ‘cookie cutting’ a budget from a different region. “What works well in the Western Cape or Gauteng may be a challenge to implement in Limpopo,” she says.
Making a difference matters
Yvonne has spent her entire career working for the public sector including more than six years at the Auditor-General and almost three years at the Eastern Cape Provincial Treasury. She joined the National Treasury in July 2016.
In all aspects of her current role, Yvonne is dedicated to making a positive difference in how government is run. She enjoys rolling out National Treasury’s in-house public budget training course. “The training gives me the opportunity to impart my knowledge, inspire others and also meet new people. Sharing this best practice makes a real difference to the people doing the work.”
Yvonne is highly motivated by seeing projects that have been budgeted for come off the ground smoothly. This includes visiting sites such as schools to evaluate functioning or an upgraded health facility where the doctors show how maternal mortality rates have improved thanks to budget provided to fill positions and procure necessary goods and services.
While the National Treasury is awaiting the implementation of the much-anticipated integrated financial management system, Yvonne is always looking for ways to reconcile the data in more efficient ways. She chairs the Data Innovation Committee within her chief directorate where the committee explores how to present financial data in more useful and valuable ways to help inform reports used for decision making.
A drive to improve
Yvonne’s advice to ambitious young finance professionals is to make the most of all opportunities presented to them. This means working especially hard in an early career before the additional pressures of marriage and family.
“You need to drive your own continuous self-development. Yes, your work may put you on an Excel course for example, but this is not simply enough. You always need to enhance your skills yourself. It is important to be passionate about the work you do and not to be scared to ask for help when needed. We can all learn from each other regardless of the position held,” she says.
She also recommends finding a mentor to check in with regularly, a practice that she keeps up to this day.
On advice from a friend and to keep her skills relevant, Yvonne signed up to complete the ACCA qualification in 2012, adding to her B.Com honours in Accounting from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She found that the qualification gave her a more strategic view on finance and the capability to interact on a higher level with the accounting officers and executive management she works with.
“This is an international qualification that provides a flexible, paced approach to studying. The support that they give members is simply amazing. Aside from the formal studies, there is also career guidance support, which gives advice, for example, on how to handle a job interview as well career opportunities around the world. The peer networks that an ACCA qualification opens up are also very worthwhile,” says Yvonne.
Keeping ahead of the industry is something that Yvonne strongly believes in. She completed a two-year University of London Masters in Professional Accounting with a merit pass in 2019.
In the coming years, Yvonne plans to continue to make an impact in the finance space by combining her audit experience with an in-depth understanding of the budget and accounting processes.
Not just about the numbers
For Yvonne, good communication is the key ingredient in any successful department or organisation. For her department, this has meant being more mindful, including something simple as greeting properly or watching the tone in emails. “In my line of work, we work with various stakeholders and communication whether it be written or verbal is critically important”
She believes in frank feedback and doesn’t wait for performance assessments with team members to share her views, rather she gives continual input on what is working and what could be done better.
“It is important to have the team on board and kept abreast of any developments within the unit. This applies right from the team assistants through to deputy directors. By communicating thoroughly, you give people the opportunity to really own the assignments they’re working on.”
Pressing the stop button
Yvonne spends time on the weekend with her husband and two daughters. She loves to explore local attractions or simply visit the zoo with her family, and ensures they get away once each year to experience the beauty South Africa has to offer. She also loves cooking and entertaining friends and extended family. She also likes to attend live shows and makes time to do so when her favourite artists are performing. When she is feeling energetic, she pushes herself to keep fit by going on walks.