Tyrone Soondarjee, Financial Director Sasfin: Carving out your role as CFO

“As a commercially-orientated CFO, I like to play a leading role in business which is why Sasfin is good fit for me. It offers opportunities to broaden my horizons and that is what appeals to me,” says Tyrone Soondarjee, Financial Director at Sasfin bank and the JSE-listed Sasfin Holdings Group. Speaking about the Group, Soondarjee says: “We understand entrepreneurs, because we are entrepreneurial ourselves.”

Sasfin Bank is one of the smaller banks in South Africa, and is a key part of the Sasfin Holdings Group, a diversified financial services group, and has big plans for the future. "We got our license in 1999 and in 2001 we bought a private stockholding company which was the embryo of our wealth management offering. Nowadays, we manage R70 billion of assets. We do a variety of specialised things very well. We are a lender to the SME-sector and mid-size corporates and our approach to service is very 'high touch'. That means we don't refer companies to a call centre for a loan of R5 million. We stay close to our clients and deal with them directly."

More recently, Sasfin has set up a transactional banking business. Soondarjee says the new area offers ample opportunities for growth. "We can be a primary banker to our current clients now and we have the platform to expand our product and service offering. This is part of our long-term strategy."

The African continent is also part of that strategy which Soondarjee says is a "natural progression" in the predominantly SA-based operation. "We want to make sure that we partner with the right people. We are quite acquisitive; the Group today was put together with a number of successful acquisitions and M&A is still part of the way we operate."

Speaking about the CFO role in modern organisations, Soondarjee says the role is becoming more important and demanding. "CFOs are really a key business partner and as a vital part of the "C" suite. The transition to CEO is becoming more and more natural and common", a position that Soondarjee says he aspires. Soondarjee believes that no matter what the environment, the CFO position is one that individuals can "carve out". He believes that there is much value in both networking and also, passing on knowledge to those aspiring to the position. As such, he is very supportive of CFO South Africa's network opportunities: "We have many aspiring CFOs in our ranks. Interacting with other CFOs is important, as it is the best way to keep abreast of what is a constantly-evolving profession."

"You need to be enthusiastic about the work you do and I take great pride in representing the bank at events such as roadshows. I think it is very important for a modern bank's CFO to be part of the face of the organisation."

Soondarjee's own journey to CFO may have been arduous but it was one to which he remained committed. "I always wanted to be a CA, but it has been a long journey. It became my single goal from when I was in Standard 8. I clearly remember that the school introduced the CA profession to us, which was then unheard of in the Indian community. I couldn't do articles in Durban, so in 1981 I went to a small accountancy firm in Johannesburg. Later I relocated to Durban, married, had children, stopped studying and went into business. I finally became a CA in 2006."

Although Soondarjee had a successful career at Deloitte he wanted to get back into banking. "I thought it would be better to work for a smaller bank, so I could have a helicopter view of business. It was a good culture fit. The business engagements are exciting and interesting and I am constantly challenged and intrigued. You have to take the opportunities presented to you and carve out the role you want as a CFO. You have got to take ownership. Sasfin allows me to do that."

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