PwC puts Namibia first
Talita Horn, who is the PwC assurance associate director, shares the inside story of the world’s leading accounting and auditing firm.
Q: People always want to know what PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is all about. Could you give us your background?
A: PwC is best known for audit and tax services, which certainly form a big part of what we do. What people do not realise, however, is that PwC does more than that.
We do a host of other professional services with regards to business; be it process improvement, corporate governance, human resources services or training for any professional service to do with business.
So we have an assurance division - which comprises audit services - tax division, which takes care of direct and indirect taxes and the advisory division, which is full of a number of other divisions.
Q: What is your core business?
A: We are basically involved with business professional services. We provide assurance services; for example assurances to the stakeholders of the business that their profits are truly and fairly reported.
Otherwise, we give assurances to the managers with responsibility for the processes are in place, to maximise the wealth of the business on whatever their objectives may be, in a sustainable manner. Then we can give assurance that the processes are in place, that they need to be improved or that a strategy is not in line with the ultimate goal, etc.
We also help to implement plans. If I were to say what we do in one word, I’d say ‘assurance’.
Q: Would you say you are guarantors?
A: PwC thrives on its reputation. We are ranked as the fourth most recognisable brand in the world after Ferrari, Google and Microsoft. So part of all the effort we put in reputation and quality gives us an assurance that we are providing stakeholders with not only assurance, but also value added advice.
So when we say we will be looking into assuring the stakeholders, we come up with ideas that would provide them with comfort. And should things not go well, then we would need to make a plan to fix it.
Q: Who are your clients?
A: We group our clients into industries to develop the right kind of expertise for each one of them; for example, financial services, such as banks, insurance companies, asset management companies and pension funds.
Allow me to mention that we also have a very deep rooting in the public sector, certain Government departments and State-owned enterprises (SoEs).
In the financial services industry, we audit the Bank of Namibia and two other commercial banks, not to mention the clients we serve in asset management, life and short term insurance and pension funds. So in financial services, we have a very strong footing.
We have two other divisions called the Technology, Information Communication and Entertainment, as well as the Consumers Industrial Products and Services through which we co-ordinate our services; be it retail, logistics, distribution or mining, which we are also very involved in.
So by putting them into all those buckets, we end up with teams that specialise in specific industries.
Q: What sets PwC apart from the rest?
A: Our motto is to do the right thing or not do it all. That, together with our people, makes us different from other auditing, accounting and consulting firms. We are the largest professional services provider, and it is a result of significant investment we have made in training Namibians to provide specialist services.
Q: Given the size of Namibia’s population, do you still get business deals since all the ‘big four’ are well represented here?
A: And that is a testimony to the Namibian economy of only 2.1 million people; auditors are ready to service the economy. With such a small population, we have a very stable financial services sector. These 2.1 million people need the services and they buy them to maintain the robustness despite the current world economic situation.
So it is exciting to do business in Namibia, despite the competition of the ‘big four’. We all service different types of clients. In fact, the big four need to compete with non-Namibian service providers rather than with each other, because there is enough work to be done.
What I enjoy about the Namibian economy and PwC is that we are able to service our market through a generalised approach. For example, although there’s the financial services sector, there are people who service individual clients as well as financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions the general public has on companies like yours?
A: Most people think that we only carry out audits, fill in tax returns and only work with big businesses.
We have a PCS - a private company services drive. It is an owner-driven business. As such, businesses need professional services to help them for example implement strategies and make a robust controlling environment free of fraud through forensic investigations and training.
So we do not just service big businesses, we also service privately-owned entities.
Q: What value would small to medium enterprises (SMEs) get from dealing with PwC?
A: Quite exciting deals. There are learning and development tools that we require managers to apply for across the board, no matter what service lines they are in. This results in our ‘trusted advisor’ business concept in which we share knowledge and experience over conference calls and carry out training sessions with the help of our counterparts in South Africa - in bigger and smaller regions.
We also listen to experts during these calls, in say, a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) strategy or valuation models. We recently had a session on mergers and acquisitions (M&As).
So our managers have access to very deep expertise in different disciplines. Meaning that you can come to PwC in Windhoek, for instance, and get help in a wide range of fields. You only need to deal with one person no matter what problem you may have. So that is a very exciting phenomenon in PwC’s effort to help business owners.
Given our global network, if you do not get an answer by yourself, rest assured that somebody else would have spoken about the same thing. All you need to do is pick up your phone and have your say on whatever issue you might need help with as far as financial services is concerned.
Following the feedback from the last “family owned business survey”, we have for example, developed a benchmarking tool to help smaller organisation evolve.
As such, private companies form a bigger part of our business advisory concept. No matter the problem - taxes, audits, accounting or strategy implementation - we can help.
Q: Could you tell us where your business school fits in with your business and the Namibian space in mind?
A: PwC is a dedicated training organisation. We train chartered accountants. We spend so much time, money and energy in developing our people. If we do it internally, why not help the industry at large?
The business school is fairly new. It has only been in operation for a year.
There is a range of softer skills training such as customer relationship, frontline reception - how to deal with customers, how to deal with organisation cultures and a wide range of topics that we deal with beyond debits, credits and/or accounting.
We often advertise a couple of public courses in the local newspapers that anyone can attend (usually a one/two-day training session(s)). Should a company experiencing issues around a specific topic seek our services, we can always tailor them for its own audience.
There is a new and exciting management development programme that works like a mini MBA. We teach different soft skills [similar to an MBA] to management cadres of an organisation. Through this programme, the participants can work on a project based on an abstract faced in their organisation.
That management team must also come up with ideas on how to tackle such an abstract in that specific entity. It’s very rewarding to observe the ownership attitude when we carry out such management development programmes.
Companies need to be ready to utilise the benefits available after the implementation of the new NTA training levy, and we are well suited to help in this regard.
Q: Given your level of involvement in training, would you say that the private sector is often wrongly blamed for failing to complement Government in skills development and transfer?
A: As an organisation, we are very eager to help Government in this regard. During the ‘Prototype Week’, for instance, we flew in expertise from the global firm including the global sector leaders. Our reasoning is that they have a wealth of experience, so let’s learn from them and try to implement our strategies from the lessons learnt. In the Namibian set-up, this demonstrates a level of development, especially in SoEs.
The ‘Prototype Week’ was exciting because the participants came up with 43 projects, which we are now taking up with different Government bodies and the private sector. We also sit in board meetings to encourage the actual delivery of these projects.
So we constantly think of innovative ways to address challenges.
Q: Could you therefore take us through your major successes?
A: Our main success would be maintaining our top position across a wide range of industries with regards to skill levels, businesses, the public and private sectors.
There are a myriad more achievements, such having two “Namibian Business Women of the year”, in our midst, our contribution in the establishment of the Namibian proto-type committee, our NPPC rating of 92%, and the satisfied flagship clients we serve.
Q: What are some of the challenges industry players like you face?
A: ‘Namibianising’ our service offering would be one. For instance, when Government issues a billion consulting contracts, why would so many of them go out of the country?
So that is the logic behind what we do. We need to build the skills locally so that those consulting fees do not go out of the country as that ends up being a big challenge.
We spend a lot of money on bursaries. We support 55 Namibian students studying in South Africa so they can return and help build the much needed skills at home.
Q: What are some of the local and international opportunities that Namibia could take advantage of?
A: That’s the most exciting part. We are a small, stable country with a stable infrastructure. Thus, the prototyping concept presented Namibia with an ideal model of different opportunities in different industries. As such, the concept is expected to present different solutions to be tested in an African environment, which might be very different from the European environment.
Ironing out the problems and making sure this is how we want to tailor it out before shipping it out to other countries is a different issue. South Africa is our economically powerful neighbour but one must keep in mind that the Namibian economy represents different opportunities.
In a recent conversation with a gentleman from Dubai, I discovered that they are working on implementing different and alternative housing solutions. They plan to test them in Namibia first since it is relatively easy to get access to big ports if they are to bring in materials. Should the plan go through, they would be able to set up a base here from which they could service the rest of Africa.
Any technological sector - whether it is IT or the West Cable - can prosper in Namibia as it has so much potential. And then can we not service our land-locked neighbours through the Walvis Bay Corridor Group with all manner of services?
The natural resources we have may only be found in some remote areas but we need to be careful with what we do all the same.
Q: Good as it may sound, what would you say about some of these bilateral relationship stonewalls that occur due to diplomatic stalemates?
A: It’s a question of doing it on all fronts. It’s the Government’s responsibility to make sure that all the agreements are signed and all has been done ethically with the participating countries.
Think about the Benguela Current Commission; they have just signed a good agreement to establish co-operation. Private sector also has a role to play in making use of such agreements, and supporting government in their endevours.
There’s also the DRC development project, which was signed a couple of weeks ago to establish a hub that would service different parts of Africa. So such plans have to be done on more than one front with each partner doing its part.
Implementation remains a challenge, and while we can consult and advise, a lot more needs to be done to implement great advice.
Q: What do you think is the future of the Namibian economy?
A: The Namibian economy is unique. Whenever the rest of the world faces a severe recession, Namibia often suffers less significantly than the rest of the world.
Interestingly, whenever the world grows at exceptional rates, Namibia also grows at the same less extreme rates despite the usual ups and downs.
Namibia’s economic future depends on the mining and natural resources, which must prominently feature if it is to benefit from the booming industries. This is to ensure that Namibia does not lose by being stripped of the natural resources and having to buy them back at inflated prices.
Thus, mining and natural resources need more focus to maintain Namibia’s good economic prospects, and we must also maintain the financial services sector reputation.
We have a good reputation in adhering to world class standards of performance. State-owned entities contribute a significant percentage to the country’s GDP. Because they are the biggest employers, and they can make Namibian services grow.
Q: What steps do you take to empower women and the youth within and outside your company to realise the benefits of the economic growth?
A: You only need to take a good look at our managing director, Nangula Uaandja. She is a self-driven individual and an example to all, but you have rightly stated that one has to do it both internally and externally. Nangula, for instance, lectures at the African Leadership Institute to African leaders who can help steer the Namibian economy into the right direction.
Internally, 66% of the ownership structure at PwC comprises women empowerment at leadership level. A hard look at our business profile would give one an idea of how much we do to help the previously disadvantaged while getting our ratios right up the scale.
We have also partnered with Global Labs, which aim to grow entreprenuers into big business.
Externally, there are a number of corporate social responsibility programmes that we are involved in including the Omuhoko Trust and Christina Swart Opperman Trust. Our members of staff contribute to the Trust, which is tasked with different projects around the country.
We have different educational initiatives. As a firm, we have committed a lot of resources to the education sector. We believe that we need to ‘Namibianise’ all the professional skills and that is where we are focusing all our efforts on as far as strategy implementation goes.
Q: Is there any further information you would like the general public to have about your organisation?
A: It is all about Namibia and what we can do for Namibia as Namibians - be it supporting better performance of the public sector or contributing to the growing pool of qualified chartered accountants in Namibia, who in turn will contribute to the Namibian economy. PF