It is time for CFO South Africa

Since its launch in September 2011 CFO South Africa has become the leading networking platform for CFOs and finance professionals. The fast-growing online and offline community is moulded on a successful formula in The Netherlands, where the platform has become as essential for finance professionals as adding and subtracting. We spoke to Alex van Groningen, founder of the Dutch CFO and South African platforms about the opportunities in South Africa, his business model and the ambitious plans of CFO SA.

Why have you chosen South Africa?
"There are three sides to every story: mine, yours and the truth. In this case my side is that I have come on holiday to Cape Town for many years to go kite surfing and have completely fallen in love with the country, its friendly people and of course the weather. So ten years ago I decided to register some domain names like cfo.co.za and last year we decided to explore the business opportunities in South Africa seriously. Your side of the story is that South Africa lacked a dedicated networking platform for CFOs and finance professionals, where they could meet and discuss the dynamics of a fast developing and changing economy. The truth is that there is just no way around Africa anymore and South Africa is a perfect springboard from which to access the exciting opportunities that the continent has to offer. So I would not ask why we are entering South Africa, I would like to ask others: why aren't you?"

What does CFO South Africa do?
"We are in South Africa to build a network for CFOs and finance professionals to share knowledge, exchange interests and open up business opportunities. We invite all finance professionals working in South Africa to get connected on our website and to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. The platform will not only be active online, but also offline, where we will continue organizing events like CFO Round Tables, CFO cafés and presentations on interesting topics -often hosted by partner organisations. We believe knowledge sharing and discussing common challenges will benefit all CFOs involved and ultimately benefit the economy of South Africa and Africa as a whole."

What expertise are you bringing from The Netherlands?
"In The Netherlands we started 20 years ago with training and education. These days most CFOs and finance professionals visit our events and are paying members of our organisation. We know the CFOs of the top-300 companies in the country personally. We know what drives them and what their networking needs are. We establish contacts, facilitate meetings and are still active in providing training and courses. Our Dutch company now consists of 20 people and we have proved our networking concept over a long period of time."

What is your roll out plan for South Africa?
"There is an incredible amount of optimism in South Africa, especially when compared to the sombre messages that keep coming out of Europe. We first want to establish a strong foundation for the platform in South Africa, learning more about what keeps South African finance professionals awake at night. CFO SA already reaches about 2,500 finance professionals and this needs to grow to 50,000 people from junior level to CFOs. We are starting at the top, but we want to be able to add value to the whole sector. Once we're firmly established, we will also be looking to set up events in other African countries like Nigeria and Kenya."

How do you do that?
"Our online activities revolve around our website, which already contains 50 interviews with South African CFOs and we're looking to publish an average of two interviews each week in which finance professionals can inform and challenge each other - and partners can present exciting opportunities. Offline we organize events like round tables, breakfasts and dinners exclusively for CFOs and CFO Cafés for all finance professionals. Partner organisations also host presentations on current topics. The agenda of the CFOs always leads, but we also partner with adjacent industries like recruitment agencies, accounting firms, banks, suppliers and insurers. In the longer term we also want to look at other business models that have worked in The Netherlands, like membership for access to exclusive events, a jobs board and training and education."

Why should South African companies partner with CFO SA for events?
"Many South African companies have experience organizing great promotional and networking events, but the independent platform that CFO SA offers brings unique opportunities. Research has shown a 30 percent higher attendance, when events are organized by a neutral platform like CFO SA. As a service company CFO SA also takes care of personal invites and thank-yous and there will always be a lot of online publicity around the events, reaching the people and companies that could not make it."

What does the 2013 events calendar look like?
After our successful CFO Roundtable and CFO Café in March with Accenture, we are setting our sights on two events in May that will be hosted by Oracle on 14 May (Cape Town) and 16 May (Johannesburg). An exclusive CFO dinner will also take place on 15 May in collaboration with Transparent SA. At least three more rounds of events will be organized in 2013; details and dates are currently being finalized. The first full year of growing the CFO South Africa network will culminate in a CFO Day in March 2014. During this event the first annual CFO Awards will be handed to the brightest stars in the world of South African finance professionals.

Please also read our About CFO South Africa page.

If you would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, don't hesitate to get in touch with us to arrange an interview. Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected] .