Simon Adams, Avashnee Ramdial and Craig Sumption unpack how they are building finance teams for the future.
On 9 March, South Africa’s leading finance professionals heard how the changing needs of business have resulted in CFOs looking outside of the technical finance skills when bringing new talent into their teams.
“Change is the only constant in the world right now, and the way of thinking has changed with it,” said Stanlib CFO Avashnee Ramdial during a panel discussion.
She explained that, during Covid-19 for example, business suddenly wanted analysis from finance, but no one knew how or where to get the information they were asking for. “We were running five different scenario plans on Excel, but it wasn’t sustainable.”
She further adds that, while all finance teams love Excel, it takes a lot of time to get it to work for you specifically, and it’s not always accurate.
However, with the right technology and skill sets, finance teams can help an organisation navigate the tough operating environment it finds itself in currently. “We have to move away from past reporting and really look at analysis for the future. Organisations are looking for business partners that can tell them what is going to happen, not historians,” Avashnee said.
The right skills
For Nando’s South Africa CFO Simon Adams, the key to building a good finance team is twofold. “On one hand, the core fundamentals of finance remain, and although we want to edge towards the sexy stuff, like technology, high-performance mindset and forward-looking ambition, you still have to hire for the technical capability,” he said, adding that he places a lot of reliance on professional bodies like SAICA and ACCA to hire for those.
However, Simon believes that partnering with the HR function when bringing in new talent is ultimately the way to getting the right skills, explaining that a psychometric test and interview can only tell you so much about a candidate, and that it’s fairly easy to get around those.
“How I personally look at it is: regardless of the level we’re employing for, I’ll spend time with them at the office, asking them about their approach to life and change. I’m not interested in whether they can do the P&Ls, because SAICA already covered that part. I want to know who they are as a person.”
Simon explained that bringing the technical skills together with the personal character and intersecting them with the company’s culture results in a great team.
TWK Agri CFO Eddie Fivaz added that the culture of a company is the starting point of building a team ready for the next decade. “Trust should be the cornerstone of the company. Employees should feel supported by their leaders, and their values must be aligned with the company’s values.”
If this is in place, he added, all that is left is to employ people with a high-performance mindset.
“You need to look beyond the technical skills and look for communication skills too,” Eddie said. “I like to ask candidates what they like to do in their free time, and a lot of times the answer is to braai and hang out with friends. I then ask them to invite me to this braai, and to tell me how they would entertain me if I attended. This is how I pick up whether they are good at communicating, telling a story, and what level of attention to detail they have – did they forget to salt the meat?”
Additionally, Eddie will monitor how they interact with their colleagues, from the executive members to the cleaners, and how they deal with inconveniences like traffic. “You can quickly learn about someone’s temperament by just observing how they react to people and challenges,” he said.
While Eddie and Simon are both reluctant to rely on psychometric tests and character assessments, Stanlib’s finance team has embraced it fully. “Everyone that gets hired has to do a specific assessment that tests for innovation and analytical ability around scenarios and business partnering,” Avashnee explained.
With the recent changes in business, she is looking at where the organisation was before, what the skills are in the business currently, and what the skills are that it needs to move forward. “We then identify where there are learning opportunities for our teams in order to create the capabilities we need.”
She added that, when someone leaves, she is very deliberate about replacing them with someone who has “next level thinking, and can bring something new and exciting to the team”.
CFO South Africa executive community director Georgina Guedes then asked the three panels what the unusual skills are they will be looking for next were, and they said:
- Business partnering
- A solution mindset
- Bigger picture thinking
The right tech
In addition to hiring the right skills for the new job, CFOs have to ensure that their teams are enabled with the right tech. And with the massive move towards automation, this is more possible than ever.
“Historically, finance teams would sit until the early hours of the morning doing reports. Now, the Nando’s South Africa team goes home at 5pm and the bot does all of that for us. We just come in the next morning to clean up the data and pick up the areas the AI hasn’t learned yet,” Simon explained.
Stanlib has also reaped the benefits of automation with their recent implementation of Oracle. “We’ve reduced the budgeting process from two and a half months to two weeks,” she boasts. They also implemented a reporting and forecasting framework to help them plan their scenarios more effectively.
However, Simon adds that while most CFOs have managed to take away the mundane tasks their teams spent most of their time on using automation, South Africa is still far behind the rest of the world when it comes to the effectiveness of automation.
“Initially there were concerns that it would take away jobs in a country that is already struggling with such a high unemployment rate. But all it’s done is changed the required level of people we’re bringing into organisations,” he said.
Simon further explained that, at Nando’s, they have stopped bringing in junior skilled individuals, like clerks, and are instead filling empty vacancies with more analytical, insight-driven, business partnering and commercial skills.
Attendees then had the chance to break into smaller groups to discuss how they were creating high-performance teams; from the skills they’ll be hiring to the technology they are using in order to unlock talent that will help their business navigate change. Stay tuned to find out what they said!
Already have the right skills and technology? Need help building the right workplace for your teams to thrive? Read how you can shape a future-ready workplace here.