Seyi Bickersteth, National Senior Partner KPMG Nigeria, on Africa’s potential to be great

“We [Africa] need to market ourselves more. We have a continent with lots of opportunities for people, we have a young and vibrant population and a growing middle class. We need to let people know that we are open for business and that we are very investor friendly,” says Seyi Bickersteth, National Senior Partner KPMG Nigeria & Chairman KPMG Africa Practice. Seyi has enjoyed a long and illustrious career – one that spans 40 years, in fact – and is no stranger to change. Currently, he oversees KPMG’s business in Africa, and calls his most important responsibilities developing people, outlining the vision for KPMG, and setting the strategy for how the firm will move forward. “Our clients are increasingly telling us they want to succeed in Africa but in order to do that they need a firm that can provide a single point of contact to meet all of their expectations in the region. This guides our strategy.”

How is the role of the CFO taking shape in Nigeria?

“The role of the CFO has certainly changed. I think you need to be very clear on your strategy and on how you get there. So the CFO might still be dealing with financial matters, but it’s not just debit and credit anymore. You’ve got to know your strategy and know your business. The CFO’s primary role is raising and deploying capital adequately, but this includes human capital. To do that you must look at the processes and consider whether you have the right resources to pursue your identified strategy. Then the finance part should fall into place.”

In your profession, what are you most passionate about?

“My profession is a consulting profession, which means I’m constantly learning. And not only learning by the rules, because there’s a difference between the theory and the practice. You’ve got to know the theory but it’s a moving target. When you’re advising your client you must say, here’s the rule book but here are the practicalities going forward, and work to achieve what you want to achieve within those rules. I’ve stayed in this profession because things are always changing – rules and practicalities are changing.”

What role do you think KPMG has to play in the advancement of Africa?

“If you look at the African continent, the key thing is to say, how do you develop and how do you ensure sustained development and provide employment for people and lift people out of poverty?”

“People are also raising capital in order to finance growth. Because of the role we play in the auditing function it’s important for us to ensure that people trust the capital markets, and that we provide a fair and true view thereof. Regulation is also important. No matter what you do, businesses must be regulated. So we work with regulators to ensure we provide an environment that helps people and businesses to grow but also takes into account the responsibilities we have to government.”

What business and investment opportunities are there currently in Nigeria, and how adequately are these being explored and exploited?

“If you look at Nigeria, as with most African countries, the most important thing is the building up of infrastructure. I mean across the spectrum, so also things like education, roads and rail. The problem is that government just doesn’t have the money to do all of that, it is severely constrained. In that regard there are massive opportunities for the private sector to come in and help government to do that.”

What do companies need to do in order to participate in growth opportunities in Africa?

“You’ve got to have the capacity, and this involves many things – setting up a good structure, ensuring you have the financing, ensuring you’ve got the people. I think you’ve got to have a horizon that is medium to long term. And you have to be willing to participate fully. To benefit yourself and government it’s a two-way street.”

Where do South Africa and Nigeria fit into the world economy? Where does Africa fit into the world economy?

“We are talking here about the two biggest economies in sub-Saharan Africa. There’s a whole lot of things that those two economies can do. One thing we haven’t done well in Africa is promote intra-African trade and investments. We’ve started; we can see a lot of investments moving upwards towards the rest of Africa from South Africa and are also seeing Nigerian investments moving outwards, such as Dangote, and some Nigerian and South African banks moving outwards, but I think we need to trade among ourselves more.”

The above is an excerpt written by the CFO SA; please get the full interview here

David Okwara

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