Nicky Dewar, CFO of Post Bank: Testing the boundaries
“Don’t be afraid to get boxed in by going for opportunities as they present themselves,” says Nicky Dewar, CFO Post Bank at the South African Post Office. “If I look at my career, especially in the beginning, I did not know what to do,” says Dewar, when asked what she would advise young accountants. “But I have noticed that all experiences build on the others – nothing goes to waste. You should not be worried that you will be limited if you choose a certain direction. Don’t worry and just go for it.”
Dewar converted her maths honour into a CA title and has ample experience as a Finance Director at Barclays, Microsoft and the Compass Group. “I didn’t really know what to do after school except studying music, but my dad said I would be a pauper. At some stage the money started calling me. I must say that I have used my maths background many times since, especially when understanding actuaries.” She says she is looking forward to share experiences and approaches with fellow CFOs through the CFO SA platform. “I like the idea of networking. There are not enough forums where we can pick each other’s brains. It can really help with problem solving if you can call someone up and bounce your idea of someone. It can save a lot of time.”
Working in the government sphere does not always have a very good reputation with finance experts with a healthy amount of corporate experience. “I was looking for a consulting role and would have never thought of joining a state owned entity,” admits Dewar, who has now been in her position for three and a half years. “There are some very, very good people here. I guess it’s the complexity of the job that is keeping me here.”
According to Dewar the bureaucracy of a company like the Post Bank can be challenging. “We have to work within the framework of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), which is there for a good reason. But the rigid interpretation of the act often defeats its purpose.” However, Dewar is in charge of the conversion of the Post Bank into a real bank – a much discussed development with political proponents and adversaries. “We are about to apply for a banking license. The Postbank will then become a separate company with a mandate to cater for the poor. Our position is quite unique and I believe we can make a big impact, for example by providing small loans in rural areas.”
The Post Office has 2400 branches, many more than banks which have between 600 and 900. “We are a lot more in rural areas. We already have ATM ability there, but after we get our license we will also be able to provide micro-insurance and micro-lending. At the moment we are only a savings bank. We have to submit our application by the end of June, the Reserve bank will probably take about 6 months and then we have 12 months to fulfil all requirements. It is not often that you get to build a bank, it’s very exciting!”
Dewar sees it as one of her biggest accomplishments that she managed to convince the Treasury to make funds available to get the new Post Bank of the ground. “I have been running around doing business cases to try and get funding from the Treasury. The government is grappling with a plethora of priorities like education, service delivery and infrastructure – so it was not easy.” Although some politicians and analysts are tentative about the development, Dewar backs it enthusiastically. “We will have to do a lot of training in the branches; it is a journey. But the whole process might be a catalyst for more change within the Post Office Group. The higher standards of the Post Bank, like our auditing and accounting practice, can filter down into the organisation.”
Like many CFOs Dewar has noticed there is a much greater demand for finance executives to challenge the business they work for, propose activities and improve the level of channel or product profitability. “I enjoy that a lot, especially since the profession used to be more about interpreting the past.” That makes it extra important for companies to appoint the right people in the right jobs, she says. “CAs can be very different, that is very personality driven. Some think inside the box like auditors. They are more comfortable following rules and keeping within boundaries. Others like to test those boundaries – those will stand out.”
If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].
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