Matsobane Matlwa has big shoes to fill. The new executive
president of South Africa’s largest accounting body replaced
Ignatius Sehoole, who led the organisation for a decade. Matlwa
speaks candidly with Carolyn Canham about the
challenges he’s faced in his first six months leading the
membership body.
Matsobane Matlwa

 

The new executive president of the South African Institute of
Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has professional and leadership
experience in a number of fields. Matsobane Matlwa joined SAICA at
the beginning of February from the South Africa Revenue Service
(SARS), where he had been the group executive responsible for the
large business centre. Other career highlights include working as
general manager responsible for group finance at South African bank
ABSA and as an audit partner at Ernst & Young.

Despite that experience, leading SAICA has
been a steep learning curve.

“The first six months has been very
challenging for various reasons. One is that I came from an
organisation of 15,000 people to an organisation with 140 people,”
Matlwa says.

In addition to the different staffing levels,
the SARS had a much larger and more flexible budget.

“SAICA by its nature relies a lot on members’
subscriptions and that is very limiting,” Matlwa explains. “That
was a constraint for me because I felt that SAICA is highly
under-resourced. There is a lot of dependency on few people. A lot
of people are being stretched. A concern that I have is that if
anybody leaves, it is a huge risk for this organisation.”

Dealing with members was also a first for
Matlwa.

“The tricky thing about members is they are
your shareholders and clients at the same time,” he explains. “I
came from an environment where I had the law supporting me. The
issue there was if you don’t pay tax, we can take it even if it
means taking you to court or jail. But here it is slightly
different.

“You have to at all times make sure that you
are cognisant of how you spend the subscription money because some
members believe they are paying our salary.”

Another challenge for Matlwa has been the
legacy of his predecessor, Ignatius Sehoole, who spent 10 years in
the job.

“Taking over from someone who was there 10
years isn’t easy because they will have left a legacy in the
organisation – the way it talks and the way it walks. The way they
do things is different to the way I do things,” he says.

Matlwa’s mandate is also very different from
his predecessor’s. While Sehoole was charged with establishing
SAICA and predominantly acting as an overseer, Matlwa is more
operational. He provides leadership from the ground and gives
direction.

“Because of that difference of mandate, it
creates problems for the staff because they are not used to anybody
saying ‘where is the report’? Can we meet and discuss this, this
and this, because it has never happened before.

“People tend to not like change. So I think
the difficulty now is people trying to get used to how I do things.
I also need to learn how to rely on them, to understand their
strengths.

“Unfortunately, this process can be very
painful for both of us. But I must say I am now six months into the
job and it is beginning to get much better.”

Six months into the role, Matlwa has some
ideas about the direction he wants to take the institute.

“One of the bigger challenges for SAICA, which
is probably part of my responsibilities, is how do you change the
face of the profession?” Matlwa says.

“If you look at the profession in South
Africa, it does not yet reflect the demographics of the country.
One of the bigger challenges is how do you make sure that black
people in general are fairly represented among accountants. The
numbers are still very small so that will have to proceed.
Secondly, members want value for the subscription fees they are
paying.”

Therefore, Matlwa is faced with the challenge
of how to identify the products and services members require. A
taskforce has been formed to help with this.

Matlwa has also been investigating how other
professional accounting bodies around the world deal with their
members. He says two practices he has observed that he would like
to implement in South Africa are ensuring the institute does not
become too dependent on members’ fees and introducing products that
are specialised for different professional areas. In the past,
SAICA’s products have been very generic.

Another challenge is ensuring SAICA operates
like a normal business.

“As senior management we need to sing the same
song, to be on the same page and to make sure that we concur with
one another,” Matlwa says. “Like in other companies, we need to
make sure staff morale is always high, make sure that people are
willing to wake up and come to work.”

While this is both challenging and
interesting, Matlwa concedes there have been days where he’s
wondered why he took the job.

“It is a huge responsibility and my biggest
fear is we are under resourced from the human point of view,” he
says.

“One main challenge is how do we find a way of
making sure that our dependence on membership subscription fees as
a means of income is very low. SAICA needs to change to become
sustainable.”