Visionary Woman: CFO Nopasika Lila says the world is conspiring for your success

Women should be given opportunities with full confidence that they are going to achieve and deliver, says Nopasika.

Although Barloworld group FD Nopasika Lila wanted to study music, she has no regrets about her impressive career in finance.

“Accounting contributes more to the economic growth of a country and I am more relevant in this space, which I appreciate,” she says. This comment is pertinent for a number of reasons, chief of which is that there is a dearth of women CAs in listed companies.

“My parents wanted me to pursue accounting. My sister is also a CA and was very influential in my decision to become a CA,” she says.

This certification was followed with a qualification in governance and compliance, both of which assisted in establishing a women-run governance and compliance consultancy entity, Astute Intellect. Soon thereafter, Nopasika was provided the opportunity to take on the role of CFO at the Eskom Pension Fund.

“I decided to spend more time in finance and better understand the breadth and depth of that professional space,” she says.

With solid experience at the country’s second largest pension fund in terms of membership and asset size, it was easy for Nopasika to migrate to a listed company like Barloworld. “My becoming an FD has evolved over the years,” she says. “I marked the board examinations for chartered accountants for a number of years, during which time I realised that more mentors are needed for young upcoming CAs. I have since mentored many individuals who are now qualified CAs and CFOs,” she explains.

Full confidence
Discipline and commitment are key attributes for any finance leader, but the demands of the role can have an adverse effect on women, who have to balance family demands and high workloads.

“Some have just not been given the opportunity to become FDs. The other reality is that FDs spend a lot of time at work. From a business perspective, there is substantial compliance, reporting and accountability, so the level of reliance on the individual is extensive and business support is needed,” she says.

It is for these reasons that Nopasika believes women need to be given such opportunities with full confidence that they are going to achieve and deliver. “Most of the time, women in the role do experience pressure and therefore need sponsors in organisations to back them 100 percent and to demonstrate that support of having real mentors to walk the journey with them,” she notes.

Another challenge that she sees for all leaders in finance is the manual legacy of finance processes. With the technology deficit in the discipline now being addressed through digital transformation, FDs can use data in a more meaningful way.

“ The virtual world and accessibility to real-time information demands decisive and timely reporting and decision-making. Finance now plays a critical role in strategy deployment and forward planning so the analytical mindset and skills of employees becomes key,” she said.

Holistic view
With the new ways of working mid and post-pandemic, FDs are expected to manage and maintain liquidity and strong balance sheets amidst an uncertain environment, understand tax requirements in different jurisdictions, and ensure transparency and value creation.

"Any economic crisis, this one in particular, forces companies to evolve as they navigate uncharted waters, not only with processes and systems, but also to be agile. It has also expanded the responsibilities of FDs from traditional finance. FDs are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the organisation remains stable and is sustainable well into the future," she says.

“It gives you a sense of the changing demands of the role which has to have a holistic view of business in order to think forward for the company, while being mindful of the internal and external environments. We also need to rebuild teams and culture and make relationships work remotely. As individuals we therefore need to be our best selves, empathetic and balanced,” she says.

In terms of personal balance, Nopasika plays the piano to destress. The onset of the pandemic has impacted her personal annual calendar of participating in the annual Great Wall of China marathon and Car Experience on Ice in Finland. Being out in the open on the golf course is a far better option during Covid-19.

She concludes that if she could go back in time and advise her younger self, she would say: “Enjoy life and be yourself; the world is conspiring for your success. Reduce the uncertainty, embrace it. Don’t doubt, receive it, go for it, be open to new experiences – and spend a little more time studying Information Technology because it’s going to be the future!”