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Marc Yon, a Senior Financial Analyst at South African Breweries, and qualified Chartered Accountant spoke to CFOTalks and gave his views on the changing role of the CFO, Brexit investing in Africa and the upcoming CFO World Congress.

Marc obtained his CA(SA) in 2011 after completing his articles at Deloitte. For him the biggest challenge in his current role is to remain relevant as a finance business partner within an ever-changing business environment, and to continue working towards achieving new objectives.

But, he says, “this also represents a great opportunity to try new things and bring new perspectives to the traditional finance role.”

Yon believes in networking, especially in social circles. “This is definitely beneficial as it allows one to have different perspectives on some common issues and challenges.”

 On investing in Africa

“South Africa plays a pivotal role in the Africa growth story, as we are one of the major economies on the continent and one of the most important emerging market nations,” says Yon.

He believes the country plays an important growth role in the global markets which are currently facing difficult times.

Yon believes that as an emerging nation with first world infrastructure in some areas which continues to be developed, South Africa can play a leading role, even though the country has some way to go in other areas. “But the long term prospects remain positive in my view.”

According to Yon, the biggest risk to investors is the political environment and the uncertainty that currently comes with some of our decisions which have resulted in exchange rate fluctuations and market losses. “However I still believe in the long run our country has strong underlying industries and to mitigate the short term risks, one should take a long term view of investing in South Africa.”

He says despite the low growth forecast for the GDP of the economy there are sectors and industries that are growing despite the tough market conditions.

“The recent successful municipal elections have shown the strength of our democracy and they were free, fair and peaceful which bodes well for the risks I had mentioned earlier. We have also seen investment in the country from the likes of Walmart investing in Massmart and international companies and brands arriving in South Africa such as H&M as well as Starbucks and Burger King.”

Yon says he would encourage international companies to invest in South African companies. “SAB is one of the most successful companies in South Africa and the world, and with the impending takeover by AB Inbev we can see an appetite to invest and grow in South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

He believes there are a few aspects to role South African companies can play in the economic growth potential on the African continent. “Firstly, the large multinational corporations should direct meaningful investment towards the continent. Secondly, our smaller to medium sized entrepreneurial enterprises would need to lead the way by continuing to innovate and provide a good example to our fellow Africans and provide a much needed impetus for the economy. And lastly, we too can learn from other countries and markets that are performing well, such as some of the East African countries.”

Yon says in his view the biggest constraint to expanding into Africa would be infrastructural challenges.  “In some cases aligning systems can be difficult, while the political and regulatory environment could also pose a risk. These could be overcome by applying a different mindset and it would require innovative thinking with solutions which are not applicable to fully developed markets, which would require the involvement of local expertise. Lastly I think the corruption levels in some countries on the continent could also prove to be a challenge. ”

Yon thinks in some cases the opportunities are worth the risks and effort. “We have seen Standard Bank as an example of expanding into Africa and having some success. SABMiller is also a case in point and one of the major reasons AB Inbev has decided to purchase SABMiller, is for the Africa growth potential.”

On Brexit

“We will and have seen an impact of the Brexit vote on our economy and on South African companies. We have seen how the exchange rate has moved favourably since the vote. We do have investment and financial links with the UK and a softening of UK growth in the medium to long term would have adverse effects on our markets. It could have a positive impact on our investment in Africa as we are steered towards other markets.”

On the changing role of the CFO/finance manager

Yon says finance is moving away from being a purely transactional and governance support function to a more integrated business partnering function where disruptive thinking, constructive challenge and actionable insights are required to push the business forward into prosperity.

“With the advances in technology and automation possibilities, the finance function and roles should move away from report pulling and reconciliation and more towards applying an analytical mindset where the ‘so what’ is generated.”

He says in the past 12 months in his new role he had to take on more decision making responsibilities and it has been very rewarding thus far.  “I do think it is a good thing, as you learn to develop a managerial mindset and apply skills that I have learned and developed over the years.”

He says he definitely had to acquire skills that would not normally be expected from financial professionals. “Financial professionals would normally be focused on very executional tasks and skills, however I have had to take on a more project management role and skill set.” This was necessitated by the roll out of some new initiatives where he had to utilize “a blue sky and disruptive thinking approach.”

Companies are beginning to expect alternative skills from finance professional, says Yon. “Technology has advanced and finance does need to display a different skillset utilizing these advances. We still have the necessary historical reporting view, however the focus on a more forward looking strategic lens is becoming more important. Finance now needs to enable the growth of business and industry by providing the ability and platform to make correct actionable decisions.”

On the IAFEI World Congress

Yon says the IAFEI presents a great opportunity to challenge, assess and identify how finance can continue to improve and enable the growth in Africa.

“I hope that during the congress progress will be made from an Africa growth agenda and that messages of the role finance should play in this journey are re-iterated and emphasised. I also believe the issue of sustainable growth should be high on the agenda as we need to ensure that we bear in mind the climate change impact.”

Yon says he would like to encourage all the delegates to reflect on the role that the financial function has in business and the enabler it can be, and to continually challenge the norms in order to shift the paradigm to drive the growth agenda.

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