First of all how did you get introduced to the world of finance? Did you always want to be a finance person when you grew up? How did it all start?
I come from a family that is skewed towards accounting- my mum is an accountant and my late dad was a banker. Right from childhood, we all got taught about the principles of ensuring accountability for whatever resources we were given. From a very early age you’d be given some little amounts of funding and you had to say what you did with it- either you saved it or thought about investing it.
That was very useful for me at that point. I began to discover this profession from that area of simplicity. Later as I got to go through it, I found that I enjoyed the discipline and the principles and that I had the interest and the natural competence for it.
I also feel that this is a profession that has impact across an entire business. I think that once you do this profession well, it gives you a bird’s eye view not just of the organisation but also of the economy.
That was the appeal- it began to evolve from that light understanding of the role; then to me moving on and saying, I want to be part of providing real answers to organisations. What is that skillset that allows me to unlock that?
That is how I ended up here.
Technology has changed the way we do business; has changed the way how every profession goes about business every day. Technology presents both new opportunities and challenges. From where you sit what do you see as some of the challenges and new opportunities being presented by technologies that businesses should embrace?
If we go back many years ago, even within the banking industry, organisations were incredibly inefficient. Getting service was at a premium and even then, you did not have a predictable service. I remember going to a bank and needing a passbook and having to wait in very long queues etc.
But it is now very clear that as information has grown what customers expect has fundamentally changed. The interaction that they expect to have with most services is based on the interaction that they are having with other global services. So people expect an Amazon type of experience; people expect something that gives them the freedom to choose and not to be tied into a choice.
So, that for me is one of the biggest drivers this information revolution that has just began is having- it is beginning to open up people’s minds to what is possible.
And because customers are seeing what is possible elsewhere, organisations have to start being more creative and innovative about how else they provide something of value to these customers that enables them to believe that this is an organisation that is providing something meaningful to me.
That shift is the single largest impact of technology- we are all looking for ways to get things done simpler, quicker, more conveniently and to a larger extent how do we leverage off not just the old technology but also the emerging technologies to be able to provide that level of consistency in our delivery to our clients.
The days of disrupted service is something we cannot take into the future. How we build a business that is resilient and robust is what we need to be thinking about and delivering. As clients change, we need to be able to be agile and change so that we are not stuck in a cycle for the next 5 years.
So, we have to be able to be very nimble moving much quicker and anticipating what our clients’ needs are likely to evolve into as we go forward.
From a finance manager’s perspective, you cannot think about the historical reporting we used to do in the old days where it took ten days to send historical reports and that was the essence of what you provided. How do you provide real finance support and leadership to an organisation at a time where there is so much disruption, change and things move quickly? How do you help the organisation to connect the dots in this time? That’s what is becoming more relevant for us now.
This also then answers the question of sustainability- it’s less of about historical reporting it’s about how do you enable the organisation to operate in a sustainable manner.
What are some of the challenges posed by this technological revolutions?
There are many challenges. One is just simply that there’s obviously an overload of what’s possible. So then you have to focus, make choice around the things that are truly transformational. Defining what is truly going to be transformational for you so that you don’t end up spreading yourself too thin is very important.
The other challenge is of course the reality of doing business in Uganda is that, it’s still very expensive and disruptive- whether it’s power and infrastructure, there’s still a lot of developments that need to happen to get us to that level that services become more predictable.
We frequently have downtime on things that shouldn’t have downtime e.g. you get connectivity challenges that you shouldn’t have, which then impacts the service and the experience of the clients.
Being the CFO of the biggest bank in the country is something that you may call professional heaven. There are people out there who want to be in that space. Borrowing from your own example, what kind of advice would you give to some young upcoming finance professionals on how to work their way up? How important is ethics and integrity?
First of all I must say that ethics is at the very core of any sustainable profession.
It’s important to have a value system that guides you to make the right moral decisions consistently because there are going to be many opportunities for that to be tested. You might have competence and competence will take you somewhere, but if you don’t have the character to sustain you there, you quickly lose credibility and whatever good you may have anticipated.
Coming back to me, I never really started out focusing to be a CFO. I think what I really wanted to do was to become a valuable business leader and that can take you many places. I think people should be less focused on titles per se but more around how do they become meaningful contributors.
There are about 4 things that in my view have generally helped me along the way as I go through my career.
Number one, is that purposeful intent of being able to make a contribution in an organisation, which for me means being part of solving something. Organisations are always trying to solve something. Organisations are always looking out for something around being more effective, more efficient, delivering more to clients and creating more meaningful experiences for customers and employees. Understanding what is important to that organisation; your organisation and being a key actor in the quest for excellence can take you places.
The second one was having a hunger to learn, I’ve been very hungry to learn for a long time and I look for learning from many places; the more diverse the better.
And my learning must go beyond accounting. Creating more diversity and learning from different areas such as marketing, IT etc., but also going beyond your organisation enables you to have a rich pool of knowledge that you can then use to contribute more effectively and being a real problem solver who makes meaningful contributions in an organisation.
The third is about focus. There are so many distractions; so many things that seem important- but at the end of the day, focusing on the true glass balls is important. In life, you are always juggling many things but sometimes, you’re so concerned about the clay balls that can be repaired and ignoring the glass balls that once broken can’t be repaired.
You need to ask yourself, what are the truly important things that if you focus on, you will create the highest leverage for the growth that you need or intend to create. And then being very deliberate about getting meaningful execution on those truly important things.
The last one and which for me has been more important as I’ve gone through a leadership growth is building trust. It’s very important to build trust with your stakeholders, with your partners, your clients and other people that you’re trying to collaborate with to create something of value.
To me, building trust is about 2 things: there has to be effective listening so you know what is truly important to the other people and secondly, being able to find common purpose- that shared value for both of you. Once you are able to do that effectively, I find that you can have more meaningful sustainable inter-relations with people.
Growing up, I used to think that bosses do nothing. They go to meetings and take a lot of coffee and laugh and take a lot of money at the end of the month. Similarly the world has its own myths and biases about finance people. I am sure even you as you entered the profession you had your own biases. But now that you live the life of finance people, what would you say are some of those myths and biases that you’ve been able to debunk?
There’s a couple of them! Let’s start with the one that you said at the start, that finance leaders just sit in meetings.
I can tell you no one is ever paid for attending meetings and people should know that there is no expectation that by sitting in a meeting you have created value for an organisation. People are paid for creating value for the organisation- that’s a mind-set that I really challenge my team to have.
Every beginning of day, you need to ask yourself, how you are going to create value for the organisation as opposed to how many reports you are going to send or how many meetings you are going to attend.
In fact the other common myth is that finance people are only there to cut costs and ensure that we don’t spend money. I think in the old days that may have been a factor but now, the reality is that finance is really more about how we effectively use resources as opposed to not spending them. What use of these resources will create the most value for the organisation?
The other interesting myth is that finance people work alone; they work in little boxes- that they’re making decisions from their small corner. Again, that maybe used to happen in the past but right now, the more integrated you are as a finance person in the business the more effective you will be. You must understand the business you’re trying to support and you cannot do that by sitting on a separate desk somewhere looking at spreadsheets. This means that you have to immerse yourself in it and that’s when you’ll be truly effective at it.
We are going into another government budget planning cycle that starts in December. This is when we have major reforms discussed and backed by the relevant fiscal policies. As the financial services sector and generally the business world, what are some of the reforms you would like to see?
First of all, there have been some positives in the recent years. The country used to have a deficit of infrastructure for a while but the fact that government has prioritized the development of energy and transport infrastructure is very critical because those are key enablers for very sustainable economic growth. Industries need predictable power; they need access to roads and access to markets.
Also we are going into oil and gas- it’s important that we have infrastructure that enables us to move this product efficiently. Those are the really important things we need to happen.
I think the needed reforms have to be around the tax regime; how do we think about an enabling tax environment? We’ve been talking about agriculture for a long time and if one looks at the last budgets, there has been mention of creating shared prosperity and enabling that and a lot of it has been around industrialization.
But as a country we still have a lot of citizenry with high dependency on primary agriculture- fragmented subsistence agriculture. I really think we need to think about meaningful interventions that increase the value these farmers earn through enhancing productivity and improving market linkages that will boost their margins and I don’t think we have been able to do enough as effectively as we can in that area.
If I connect that to the banking industry, one of the things we use to have a couple of years ago in this market was a tax exemption for interest earned on agriculture loans that enabled banks charge lower interest rates to the primary agriculture sector. Government needs to really think about how we make targeted tax interventions that reduce the cost of access to finance up to the lowest man at the lowest part of the chain who is largely involved in agriculture. That’s going to be powerful for us.
We also need to think about intentional focus on broad-based capacity building of technical skills. I think there has been some intervention in the last budget but now we need to think about how do we scale this up? These are the areas which will drive shared prosperity more effectively and bring about inclusive and sustained growth and as we prepare for oil and gas and the shifts that it will bring.
Looking at the horizon, in the next 5-10 years, what are some of the major trends that you think are going to influence the business environment or even banking itself that business leaders need to prepare for?
I think there’s a couple of things. One we’ve talked about technology- technology is fundamentally changing how people expect to experience services. People want things quicker, simpler and 24/7.
So even as we think about where we must invest in our organisations, we must be thinking, what are those enabling areas that we need to address that will guide us to the point where we can supply simpler and quicker.
The other one is a reality that the workforce is getting younger and the market is getting younger too.
If you think about Uganda where the population below the age of 30, is about 80%- how do we prepare this to be a more productive part of the workforce? How do we create the right capacity building interventions that will prepare and sharpen this age group to be ready for the workplace and job market?
And that for me is going to be significant because that can either be a productive or a disruptive work force. We have to make the right interventions to get that to become a dividend rather than a disruption.
Critical for business leaders, is how do evolve our organisations to be more meaningful to this emerging demographic- create more meaningful experiences to leverage off this younger workforce?
I think in the old days we had structures in the organisation that we had to grow into, but right now what you need to do is to create meaningful experiences for these young people in a manner that allows organisations make the most from this “millennial capital” of new ideas, untapped creativity and enhance organizational and macro productivity. Every organisation needs to answer that for themselves.
The other powerful trend is that this is the age of collaboration. In the old days there was a lot of silo-thinking around organisations growing individually.
But today the real question is who I should be partnering with today, who may have been my competitor yesterday. If we can collectively collaborate, we can create a lot more value and a lot more impact into the marketplace and that’s going to be a really powerful trend.
Speaking about the future trends, what are some of the trends that you think are going to affect the finance profession? What are some of the new roles that are opening up? What should finance schools be teaching to prepare CFOs of the future?
Historically, finance had a mind-set that we only hire accountants- there was a heavy focus on accountancy as a skillset. But what you’re seeing now, even in Stanbic we have non-accountants actually being hired into finance because we want to diversify what we can get from our finance team. We want people who have skills around data science, liquidity management and many other non-core financial skills.
The big emerging one is data science, where we are looking to more effectively utilize data to provide insights to the business so as to allow us to become much more efficient. Of course we do continue to require business analysts- not just financial analysts but business analysts in the wider sense that enable organizations to have better line of sight of the business levers they need to adjust or shift or modify to improve productivity.
In terms of new learning, leveraging data is becoming a much more central skillset- much more critical into the future; so we will need more data governance officers, data strategists, administrators, data scientists, etc. Other new relevant skill sets for finance professionals include technology savviness; especially with new technologies and customer fulfilment.
The traditional book keeping skills are being automated- there are systems in place, so it will be very important that the finance person looking into the future should enhance themselves with these new skillsets.
So, where does that then leave our traditional finance courses like B.Com, ACCA, CPA and so on?
These will remain very relevant- not because am part of CPA and ACCA but I see these learning institutions remaining relevant and evolving to create a broader learning opportunities for the accountant. And it is already happening, with a big focus on strategic business leadership, ethics and integrity.
The traditional finance schools are still very rich in content but what I encourage people to do is to really diversify learning; look for what can be added to their core competences, so as to enhance value.
And the principle of combination here, is to be able to say what can I add to what I have and it doesn’t necessarily mean one or 2 degrees. It could be a short course that allows you to broaden your capabilities and execution abilities of the finance function. It could be marketing, IT etc. Finance leaders should also be very alive to what’s happening in the regulatory and compliance space and how that is likely to impact on the sustainability of their organisations.
Any final words to young professionals?
I guess in closing I’d say be hungry to live a life that matters and improves lives and communities. And stay curious; don’t get caught in mediocrity and stagnated thinking that’s not creating new solutions. Live bold; don’t focus on how many times you have failed in the past and don’t be paralysed by fear of trying new things but treat failure as a learning opportunity and then fully live in the present and think forward.