People powered by technology are the key to defining the value of your business

CFOs said a human-centred approach is key to creating a sustainable business at Finance Indaba Conversations.

by Jane Steinacker

“There are three things that a business needs to focus on when it comes to defining its true value: innovation, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), and most importantly, a human-centred approach,” said Thobeka Ntshiza , CFO at Avis South Africa, at a Finance Indaba Conversation.

Thobeka believes that of the three, paying attention to people is the most important. “This extends beyond customers, but to your employees and suppliers as well,” she said.

Anusha Ramraj, CFO at CCI South Africa, the country’s largest call centre, agrees. “Before I make any decision I think about it as being human beings first – that’s before I put my CFO hat on,” she said. “If you want to do business smartly, you need to invest in the human element of your business.”

“In Africa we must not leave our people behind,” said Dzingira Matenga, managing director of Accenture, in full agreement. “People want to buy and do business with people who look like them,” he said, a reason why a focus on transformation in the business is vital to a company’s success.

All the panellists agreed that the value of people’s ability to better service clients or to perform their work is best served by the use of technology. “A human-led but technology-enabled solution is the winning formula,” said Mohammed Shaik, director of strategy and operations at Deloitte.

Anusha said that there are so many people worried about technology taking their jobs, but for the continent with the youngest workforce in the world, it will enable and not disable growth in the employment sector. “Bots, artificial intelligence and the use of data can help our employees provide a better service to the customers that they serve,” she said.

The systems behind a business in amplifying positive customer service is a game changer. Jason O’Shaughnessy, head of international sales from data aggregation and data analytics platform at Envestnet Yodlee, said, “There is a power to accessing data that business and users can benefit from.”

Jason gave the example of the financial platform business he represents that can connect users data to third party applications. This would mean that a call centre agent would be able to give a customer live, real-time feedback on a loan application, for instance.

Focusing on the human element also assists with risk planning, as Anusha demonstrated. She said the challenges they faced during Covid-19 lockdowns were further exacerbated by the civil unrest that took place in KwaZulu-Natal – where the majority of the company’s 8,000 employees are based.

She believes that if you are looking at risk scenarios, by understanding the limitations an employee may have during extraordinary times, like not being able to go to work or be able to work from home, it assists with not just planning – but also how the business invests in its future.

Anusha gives the example of how the company is re-evaluating the geographical areas in which it operates to disperse risk, but also at what it invests in. “We have started re-evaluating where we invest in buildings, infrastructure and how many desks and chairs we should be ordering, and even looking at data packages and how to deliver technology to people’s homes,” she said.

Dzingira said that ESG has moved from it being a “nice to have or feel good” company philosophy to one that offers sound financial benefits for a business. “It’s not just about being more self-sufficient, but also reducing the costs of power and water, leading to a more sustainable business,” he said.

But, said Anusha, while environmental and sustainable business practices are incredibly valuable, failure to comply with governance requirements has the potential to put your entire workforce out of business. “If you’re not compliant, you don’t have a business,” says Anusha. Legal violations with implications of fines and/or imprisonment can kill the business.