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The un-recognised CFO


Time to reward your blood, sweat and tears

Listen to Nicolaas van Wyk’s interview with scott.cundill.com on “The Un-Recognised CFO – Time to reward your blood, sweat and tears” here.

From Zero to CFO

Simon got to be a CFO through huge amounts of work. He worked in tough mining conditions in Africa. He earned his position through blood, sweat and tears. He doesn’t like the professional bodies with their red tape, finger pointing and bureaucracy.

He wants his hard work to be recognised locally and internationally. He wants more than just a job title, he wants an official designation that is an objective affirmation of his professional competencies, and one that is recognised internationally.

There is now a trove of research showing those finance executives with a professional designation have a huge advantage over their peers that don’t.

The question is: what designation, and why should anyone bother?

The strongest argument in favour of a designation is the professional elevation it bestows on the holder. As a finance executive, the most prestigious designation is the Certified Financial Officer, or CFO (SA).

There are tens of thousands of accounting graduates in South Africa, but only a few thousand CFOs working at the coal face in companies. The CFOs are people who have worked their way through the organisation, helped build it, shaped its strategy, sharpened financial reporting, built relationships with shareholders and lenders, and interacted at board level. They understand how businesses operate and where they break down. No accounting course is going to give you that kind of experience.

The CFO (SA) designation is recognised by the International Association of Financial Executives Institutes (IAFEI), the world’s premier organisation for finance executives. This means should Simon choose to work abroad, his designation and his competencies are instantly recognised by his peers.

Talks and Podcasts

Why is the CFO generally unrecognised? Because the company CEO is the one with the public profile. We know that much of the grunt work for which the CEO takes credit is being done in the finance engine room. CFOs don’t get nearly enough recognition for that. Oftentimes, that’s where the magic happens. Where debtors days get brought to heel, where working capital is made to sweat, where costs are placed under a microscope, where projects are funded – the unsexy stuff that rarely makes it to the headlines.

CFOs need to take a bow for being the unsung heroes of business.

CFO Talks is one way that CFOs are encouraged to come out of the shadows into the light and share their experiences, their influences and their personal and business stories.

By joining the ranks of fellow CFOs, you join a community of some of the brightest minds in the business world.

Be recognised internationally

For some years CFOs realised the need to talk to each other across industry and sector lines. Whether from Mexico, Germany the US or South Africa, they all speak the language of finance. A growing number of international bodies cater to the needs of CFOs, and confer international status on their members. This is not only career-enhancing, it builds vital bridges across a community of like-minded people.As already mentioned, the CFO (SA) designation is recognised internationally through the International Association of Financial Executives Institutes (IAFEI).

In addition to international recognition, the CFO network connects you with the brightest and best of the finance world, and keeps you abreast of the latest developments, the latest thinking and the latest trends. This allows the CFO to react more rapidly in a world that is changing at the speed of light.

CFO Talks is devoted to sharing ideas and conversations between CFOs. A platform which facilitates insightful and powerful talks relevant to CFOs, CFO Talks is an initiative between the International Association of Financial Executives Institutes (IAFEI), University of SA (UNISA) School of Business, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the SA Institute of Business Accountants (SAIBA).

CFO Talks delivers this continual conversation by offering webinars, face-to-face networking events, online videos and interviews and CFO-specific conferences.


The standard qualification to obtain the designation CFO (SA) is a Masters level degree in Financial Management, Business Administration or Accounting. However, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) credits those with unrelated or part qualifications, but have obtained leadership experience or obtained skills through volunteer experience and working with a mentor. Ideally the qualifications required to obtain the CFO (SA) designation will be obtained in the following order:

•   B Com
•   B Com Honours
•   Masters in Business Administration with specialisation in Finance.

The standards of admission as a CFO (SA) is based in most part on the ICAO/Queen’s University Collaborative Study, which incorporated a combination of prior literature and a comprehensive survey of financial executives. It begins with a list of 34 competencies structured within four general roles of a CFO (SA).

Candidates should have 8-10 years’ experience in a managerial or senior position, with experience in aspects of management such as strategic planning, development of financial strategies and monitoring their performance, management of the company’s finance department, compliance, risk management, and interaction with banks and investors.

The bar is set high for a reason: but it’s a bar most CFOs with the requisite experience can pass with relative ease. As specialised placement firm Robert Half reports, the route to becoming a CFO is by getting to grips with modern technology, earning an MBA, taking on expanded professional roles (such as controller and treasury positions, and getting a better understanding of operational issues in business.


Let’s cut straight to the chase here. Corruption is a staggering and existential problem, not just in South Africa, but internationally. In South Africa, we have been given an insight into the depth and extent of corruption through the Zondo Commission on Inquiry into state capture. This has horrified most South Africans, and rightly so, since it shows how close we are to becoming a criminal state. In many cases, corruption was enabled by finance executives and CFOs.

The problem is not unique to SA. The Wall Street Journal reports that each year, the typical organisation loses 5% of revenue to fraud through activities such as the misappropriation of company assets, corruption and bribery, financial reporting fraud, theft of physical assets or intellectual property, and more.

And all this has happened while regulators have introduced volumes of new rules, and companies have introduced whistleblower protections and fraud hotlines. In South Africa, we have seen whistleblowers abused and fired rather than protected. Yet the potential damage to reputation can far exceed the financial damage through fraud, says the Wall Street Journal.

CFOs play a vital role in policing, preventing and reporting fraud. It’s a case of the buck stops here. Many CFOs are at the learning stages of combatting fraud, where others are far down this road. All the more reason to provide a forum for CFOs to share ideas and collaborate.

There is another benefit to building a strong community of CFOs: united, they are better able to lobby lawmakers for changes that promote the interests of economic growth and prosperity. CFOs may have differing opinions on a range of issues, but they need to speak with one voice on issues such as corruption, and return business and the country to its moral centre.

The Un-Recognised CFO and the future of accounting

CFOs represent the leaders of the accounting profession, and the accounting profession is nation’s record keeper. This is no small responsibility. There is a broader public good served by having CFOs recognised as a professional designation and applying standards of excellence and ethics to a profession whose reputation has suffered. Fortunately, accounting’s reputation can be repaired. But it will take a coordinated effort and the voices of leaders in the CFO community being heard and heard broadly.

The CFO deserves recognition. The CFO deserves a strong and vibrant community of like-minded people. The CFO deserves ongoing training and coaching to assist him or her in performing at a level of professional excellence. That is why I believe the CFO (SA) designation is the way to accomplish this.

Find out more here

Nicolaas van Wyk