Terence Nombembe, SAICA CEO, on transformation within the country’s chartered accounting profession and the important role that good leadership has to play

Q: What drew you to becoming a chartered accountant CA(SA)?
A: Exposure to an environment in which CAs(SA) were developing and emerging within society. With SA’s first three black CAs(SA) being from Mthatha, it was almost organic for me to follow the same career, as I studied at the University of Transkei [now the Walter Sisulu University], which is in the same town.

I believe that I was also at the right place at the right time but looking back, I can say I have no regrets whatsoever. However, I believe there’s still a lot to be done to make the profession a meaningful player in both the economy and society at large.

Q: You were a public servant prior to joining SAICA. What are some of the lessons you took away from this period?
A: As a professional who has had experience in the private sector, I believe we can always make a meaningful contribution to government – but that’s a notion many South Africans have yet to grasp. Some consider the move from the private to public sector to be career suicide.

Of course, there are still have a number of professionals who come from the private sector hoping to make it in government but end up being disappointed and disillusioned. I have not been able to pick up what the real issues are.

Whenever we received interns in the office of the Auditor-General, we ensured that they worked hard to dispel the stereotype that public servants are lazy. I also learnt that the lack of capacity in local government is affecting its ability to account for the public resources it has to administer on behalf of society. Although capacity building and the professionalisation of local government is an ongoing, multi-year project, I’m concerned that municipalities are not using all the opportunities available for skills development.

Q: What has the transition from public service to SAICA been like?
A: It’s been smooth and seamless. I had worked in the private sector for years before moving to the office of the Auditor-General. However, what’s important is how you approach your office – you should do so with the intention of giving your all and making a difference.

Q: How do South African CAs(SA) compare with their foreign counterparts?
A: We produce accountants of a high calibre. The profession has been transformed without the authorities even thinking of changing the standards and norms.

It’s all premised around providing resources and enabling a supportive and enabling environment, without compromising standards. That’s what we need to drive the economy and build a government that is credible and reputable.

I believe it will remain like that and I don’t see our standards being watered down anytime soon – we just need to make the profession a lot more inclusive so that people are recognised in terms of how far they’re prepared to go in their development.

Currently, if you stop halfway through your CA(SA) training, it won’t be recognised in SA – you leave with nothing in terms of designation. But SAICA would like to recognise people in terms of incremental development and growth in their competencies.

Q: What about transformation in the industry?
A: We launched the Thuthuka Bursary Fund more than 10 years ago, specifically to find disadvantaged black and coloured learners with an aptitude for maths. We tend to find more girls than boys, and support them on the path to studying a BCom and qualifying as CAs(SA).

The fund is designed to be a catalyst by ensuring problems associated with lack of transformation in the profession are addressed, including funding, dedicated support at university and training levels.

An urban university environment can be overwhelming for students from disadvantaged, rural backgrounds. We have a system of mentoring and peer support in place, so Thuthuka students have a network to help them cope with the demands of university. The fund is made possible through donations from big business and government, with the latter matching the private sector rand for rand.

We now have hundreds of potential black CAs(SA) in the educational pipeline. We have multiple players in Thuthuka – from the trust itself to donors, universities and SAICA, the main administrator of the fund. Whenever we talk about issues of transforming SAICA, in particular, we’d focus solely on Thuthuka. The work we do in terms of the school camps, recruitment and awareness is done to ensure that young people have an opportunity to access funding and a better education.

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Q: Where do they go when they have completed with their studies?
A: We can’t transform the industry unless we transform the representation of professionals – accountants, in particular – in government, small businesses and civil society.

Right now, that representation is skewed. They are mainly serving the private sector, which is good for the country because they ensure that capital markets are stable. We need similar skills and capacity in the government, civil society and small businesses – that, for me, is the bigger picture. Professionals should go where they’re needed most, rather than flocking to the private sector

Q: What role do accountants play in the country’s economy?
A: Many people expect accountants to be mostly focused on figures and finance, and it might seem odd that ‘responsible leadership’ is one of the five strategic pillars adopted by SAICA. However, the notion becomes less peculiar when you consider that CAs(SA) occupy a significant number of leadership positions in both the public and private sectors – a trait that SA shares with many other developing countries. Currently, more than 30% of the leaders of JSE-listed companies are CAs(SA).

Q: Does SAICA have any responsibility towards the rest of the continent?
A: We recently signed an MOU with the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). This forms part of an effort to accelerate the development of the profession in Africa and foster a commitment to lifelong learning among accountants.

The memorandum aims to cement existing relations and fruitful co-operation between the two institutes. It also aims to facilitate a collaborative effort to provide continuing professional development for resident members of both organisations. Further, it offers South African CAs(SA) resident in Kenya access to lifelong learning services provided by ICPAK, and SAICA would return the gesture here.

The collaboration is a positive step towards achieving the strategic objectives of the African Renaissance, including ensuring socio-economic growth in the continent that is driven and delivered by Africans.

As professionals, we have a vital and indispensable role in contributing to sustainable economic development in emerging markets, particularly in financial capacity-building and encouraging foreign direct investment in our continent. The growth of every economy hinges on how judiciously resources are managed.

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Q: In what ways have you contributed to the accounting profession?
A: I was recently appointed to the board of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), where my core responsibility is to offer inputs and participate in shaping the strategic direction, relevance and reputation of the accounting profession globally.

I was a public sector committee member of IFAC from 2002 to 2005 – a role that focused on the development of international public sector accounting standards that are recognised by most multi-lateral organisations and public sector standard-setters across the globe. I was also trustee of the Thuthuka Bursary Fund from 2006 to 2013, and a member of the Accounting Standards Board.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I have an open-door policy – I’m accessible to everyone, all the time. I always try to bring wisdom to the leadership role and be a visionary.

By being accessible, I make it possible for people to connect with my vision and thinking. This is what I’m employed to do. I’m not an operator or executor. I am now at a stage where I’m able to display most of the competencies I’ve learnt during my 30-year career, including being a role model, and I’m equally able to consistently apply other competencies at a highly effective level in conducting my leadership duties.

These have underpinned my success as the former Deputy Auditor-General and continued to define my performance excellence in a more visionary role as the Auditor-General.

Q: Do you mentor anyone?
A: Yes – indirectly. I believe mentoring is mostly about parenting. That’s why I tell parents through various platforms – including the church – that it’s their responsibility to mentor children. They should take the primary role and everyone else’s guidance should be secondary. I have mentored a few people, but it’s always been difficult for me to find time for it.

‘Q’: What legacy would you like to leave behind?
A: For me, the main issue is empowerment. My focus was to empower the political leadership to know how to govern effectively. I wanted to do that in a discreet manner and allow them to use me as a sounding board. I believe that I can still do that here at SAICA, because it’s an organisation that’s in line with that kind of vision.

I would also like to be remembered as a leader who empowered others to run their affairs effectively in both government and the private sector.

Bronwyn Corbett and her partner acquired their first asset six years ago. Owing to market conditions, they listed the portfolio in November 2012 consisting of 20 properties at R2.6 billion. Within exactly one-and-a-half years, the portfolio had grown to more than R9 billion, comprising 101 properties throughout South Africa’s nine provinces.

In 2014, they went on to list a second fund, Delta International, with a fund size of $226 million, focused on Africa real estate outside South Africa. Corbett has been integral to Delta Property Fund  achieving a Level 2 B-BBEE rating, currently the best-rated company in the listed property environment.

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