Interview - SAICA CEO Terence Nombembe endorses Finance Indaba Africa

“As SAICA we are very excited about the Finance Indaba Africa which will be held on 13 and 14 October 2016,” says Terence Nombembe, CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). “The event is a great initiative from CFO South Africa, where we can showcase excellence and the value CAs(SA) can contribute to society.”

SAICA CEO Terence Nombembe calls on CAs(SA), particularly those in business, to register for the Finance Indaba Africa at the Sandton Convention Centre on 13 and 14 October, where SAICA will be a platinum partner along with dozens of other exhibitors, partners and sponsors ranging from ERP providers and recruiters to accounting bodies, banks and professional services firms.

"I am very glad we are collaborating comfortably with CFO South Africa around the Finance Indaba. This way we can take the country forward."

What can visitors to the Finance Indaba expect from SAICA?

"First of all, there will be a network of like-minded people gathered in one place," says Nombembe, who wants to use the event to call on CAs(SA) to get more involved with the integrated reporting framework advocated by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and supported by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). "As SAICA we will be able to share thought leadership on topics that will enrich our members in the work that they do. The Indaba should be a platform to consolidate and showcase examples of success stories that CAs(SA) are involved with in the trenches," explains Nombembe.

Collaboration with CFO SA
SAICA's commitment to the Finance Indaba is evidence of a new wind blowing under the leadership of Nombembe, who moved from his position as Auditor-General to become SAICA CEO almost three years ago. "Our focus has been on encouraging collaboration within SAICA itself, thus enabling us to operate better as a collective. We have also started looking at collaboration with other like-minded players and strategic partners. We do realise that we can effectively support nation building and be everything to everybody if we work collaboratively with others," indicates Nombembe.

"The Finance Indaba Africa is a great initiative from CFO South Africa."

It is clear that he recognises that most South African CFOs are SAICA members. Working with CFO South Africa is a logical way to equip SAICA members to get better at what they do and become pioneers of thought leadership. "The collaboration with CFO South Africa, especially around the Finance Indaba Africa, is a true example of the level of comfort that SAICA has about working with others for the common good of the profession."

"The ability to pull together such a big number of finance professionals for an event like this is hugely significant."

The SAICA CEO envisions that the annual Finance Indaba will be an important agenda setting event for the Institute and its members and associates. "The ability to pull together such a big number of finance professionals for an event like this is hugely significant," he says. "There are many opportunities for topics, not only in 2016, but also going forward. What we then need to do as SAICA is follow through afterwards, because we cannot achieve what we need to in half a week. The Finance Indaba can be a trigger to get people thinking, thereafter, we need to follow up with implementation, leading to the next Indaba in 2017."

School yard bully
Collaboration is a keyword in the thinking of SAICA's leadership, which is keen to shed the image of 'school yard bully' that dictates to other organisations by the sheer power of its impressive membership. "There is no benefit in playing an elitist card in society," Nombembe says. "Collaboration is a culture we have been working on at SAICA. We started working with every accounting body when the Forum of Accounting Bodies (FAB), was founded, of which SAICA chaired the first meeting. It is meant to brush aside the competitive posture that neutralises effectiveness."

In the bigger scheme of things, it doesn't make sense to compete with other accounting bodies like ACCA and CIMA for every yard, while the qualifications might be complementary, he says. "If you look at issues of regulation and standard setting, there is a lot that binds us together. We also work together comfortably on an international level within IFAC, so it would be hypocritical if we could not work together locally."

One of the themes of the indaba is the Future of Finance. What is Nombembe's take on that?

"Finance is the backbone of success of any enterprise in the world. That fundamental position ought not to be watered down," he says. "At the same time the future is in integrating financial capital with other capitals, like human capital and issues of society and environment. In the end those are all issues of sustainability. Financial capital is one element and that is why the CA(SA) is viewed as a significant player in facilitating sustainability. The future of business needs to be driven by finance people who look at the bottom line with a view of creating sustainable value through all the six capitals."

Role models
There is a long way to go still, even within the SAICA ecosystem, Nombembe admits. "Very few members have embraced this reality. The Finance Indaba is an opportunity for this awareness to be driven home. Not to force people into something they don't like, but we need to make clear that CAs(SA) and CFOs cannot be operating in the back office and only make an appearance when numbers need to be discussed."

Perhaps one of the greatest passions of Nombembe is the potential that CAs(SA) have in order to shape society and to be role models.

"If I look at my own development; I was fortunate to be part of a university where Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu, the country's first black CA(SA) and prominent member of the panel of judges for the CFO Awards 2017, was teaching. I was also part of the accounting community in Umtata when he established his firm. Especially the two CAs(SA) he produced, Sabelo Magwentshu and Wakeford Dondashe, were role models to all of us in that community, as we could relate to them as brothers, talk to them and shake their hands."

Role models should always be people who are in close proximity to you as a CA(SA) or aspiring accountants, says Nombembe, steering the conversation towards the contribution SAICA members can make. "Teaching is an important thing that CAs(SA) should be considering, even if it is just guest lectures. Members, regardless of their occupation, can play a significant role at school and university levels. It is all about telling stories of how we have progressed to CAs(SA). That always relates to our young people and provides them with the courage to keep going."

What it comes down to is mobilising the intellectual capacity of CAs(SA) for the greater good, something that doesn't happen enough yet, says Nombembe. "We do request our members to find time to give back. The country needs us. The SAICA brand is not only about the qualification. It is also about how stakeholders view us as being responsible citizens. The little that CAs(SA) can do, for example could be to donate some of our little time and money to ploughing back to the vulnerable communities. That will make a massive difference, as long as we do it communally as a collective. This will sustain our vision at SAICA of "responsible leadership". We need to mobilise our members in business in a manner that will enable them to participate effortlessly. All we need is a little of your time."

Representation of goodness
Nombembe acknowledges that he is setting himself tough targets and even calls the job of SAICA CEO more difficult than when he was Auditor-General. "At SAICA we need to deal with a combination of stakeholders, including our members, who collectively have great potential to make a difference. By virtue of their position in society, CAs(SA) can play a big role in problem solving and social cohesion. Our members are very talented and enlightened. Without interfering with their primary roles, we want to demonstrate that they can make a great contribution to good governance, a growing economy and nation building. We have the ability to expose rich talents to schools, for example. As SAICA we have a great natural geographical footprint, not only in South Africa but globally, which as CAs(SA) we need to use as a representation of goodness in accountability, transparency, integrity and credibility."

Nombembe says that soon after he joined SAICA, he realised this job was harder and more challenging than he imagined:

"You would naturally think SAICA members have a natural affinity with the profession, but people are busy and many CAs(SA) are not doing the technical work that they were trained to do. Being a CA(SA) in today's society boils down to how to use the ability to think in a structured, creative way. That is why the CA(SA) is well-placed to be leading from the front in terms of integrated thinking. The role that the CA(SA) plays needs to be elevated and exposed - and we need to move beyond financial reporting."

Pointing to SAICA's nation building pilots in schools, Nombembe says the Institute has "demonstrated that CAs(SA) can bring order where there is disorder". There is a lot of potential. Something as simple as participating in school governing bodies can make a big difference. We have seen an amazing impact in the most dysfunctional schools. Something that is very easy for a CA(SA) makes a world of difference where the need is greatest. We are also extending these nation building projects to vocational colleges, public health institutions and municipalities - and make a mass impact on skills development, public sector accountability and getting small business to be a catalyst for economic growth. We need to turnaround economic stagnation."