In Conversation with Simbongile Geqeza: Acting Chief Financial Officer
On 30 March 2020 the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) position at the university became vacant and the next-in-line, Mr Simbongile ‘Sim’ Geqeza, has been asked to hold the fort.
He has been serving as Acting CFO since 1 April 2020, in addition to his substantive role as Finance Director, a position he has held since joining the university in 2017.
Mr Geqeza is an experienced Chartered Accountant who has been tasked with balancing the financial books of several reputable companies during his career. He cut his teeth in the Accounting field in 2007 as a trainee at SizweNtsalubaGobodo Grant Thornton - the largest home-grown audit and advisory firm in Southern Africa. There he swiftly moved up the ranks and exited at the rank of Assistant Manager in 2011. Thereafter, he joined SARS for one year as a Consultant in the Transfer Pricing Division. In 2013 he relocated to his home province, the Eastern Cape, where he joined the Auditor General of South Africa as an Audit Manager - a position he held for four years. Before joining UFH he had a brief stint at Amatola Water Board as Projects Reporting Accountant.
Despite his demanding work schedule, Sim attaches a lot of value to education. He has a BComm Accounting degree from Nelson Mandela University and a Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) from Unisa. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2011 and is currently pursuing an MBA programme.
To find out more about his plan to keep the Finance Department ship afloat until the position is filled, Aretha Linden (AL) from This Week @FortHare asked the Acting CFO a couple of questions.
AL: Please share with us some of the responsibilities that come with the CFO position
SG: This role requires a lot of planning, hard work and dedication. The main responsibility is to ensure and protect the financial viability of the institution. For every decision taken by management, the CFO needs to determine and advise on the financial implications. The role can be summarized into four aspects:
- 1. Strategic – Providing financial support and recommendations to management regarding the execution of the university strategy.
- 2. Leadership – Providing leadership, direction and management to the entire finance team to ensure smooth operations
- 3. Control – Being in control of university finances and reporting on income, expenditure, the budgeting process and planning
- 4. Stakeholder relations - Maintaining all stakeholder relationships (internal and external) on matters relating to university finances.
AL: So far, what are some of the areas you have identified as having potential to advance the university and which do you think still need to be polished?
SG: The first challenge is non-existence of policies as well as outdated Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) within the division. We either have outdated policies -that were approved ages ago and need adjustments - or no policies at all. It is difficult to operate and be guided in decision making without policies and SOPs. So this will be a priority area for the Finance department this year.
Also, there’s an urgent need to improve communication of finance operations within the institution Our analysis shows that the university community is not aware of what Finance does to support the university. We will embark on roadshows to address this gap.
Another priority is to embark on a full analysis of the university’s expenditures in order to build reserves for rainy days. This project will be incorporated into the 2021 budget cycle.
AL: What approach are you planning to use to ensure financial decisions are aligned to the university’s strategic objectives?
SG: One area of weakness is that our budget is not aligned to the strategic goals of the university. This is due to lack of a Budget Policy. Budget holders are not trained on how to do costing and alignment of the budget to strategic objectives. Therefore, Finance has to embark on discussions with faculties, departments and divisions on how to link budget requests to the strategic objectives of the university.
Everyone needs to understand that every cent requested should link up and align to the strategic objectives of the university. Workshops at both budget owners level (Extended Management Team) and at budget administrator level will be organized to guide the 2021 budget cycle.
AL: What are you most concerned about?
SG: Being appointed to act in this position is an honour and a huge responsibility, Unfortunately, the appointment came when the country is facing the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. Most of the responsibilities and priorities are not moving according to the anticipated pace, due to working remotely and not being able to meet all relevant stakeholder. However, with technology we’ve been able to keep the business running albeit under trying times in our country. The pandemic has major financial implications for the university and management has to make difficult decisions to address these. It is the responsibility of the Office of the CFO to make the necessary budgetary adjustments. Lots of tough decisions to be made there.
AL: What are you most optimistic about?
SG: The commitment of the finance staff and the willingness to go the extra mile brings me hope. The new university statute has been approved and gazette. Therefore that means soon we may have stability at Council level to provide support to management. The tremendous work being done by UFH Senior Management and support staff is encouraging. We are in the right direction and if we endure a little bit more and work harder together, we will reach the UFH Promised Land.
AL: What or who keeps you motivated?
SG: My wife, Sinalo, and our two boys are my strongest support base. They are patient with me and my long working hours, even during lockdown when I am physically at home but still not with them. I really appreciate their support. I am also encouraged by the tremendous support shown by the Finance team (from team leaders to support staff), Senior Management and the UFH community at large.
AL: Lastly, what are your aspirations for UFH as Finance Leader?
SG: To obtain a clean audit outcome (unqualified with no findings). This can, and will be achieved despite the hard work and time it will take to get there. Some may say that it’s rather ambitious considering where we currently (disclaimer audit outcome). However, I believe, soon the UFH will obtain an unqualified audit outcome. It will require blood and sweat from all of us to build a UFH that is financially stable.