Home » BDO South Africa – shifting from being traditional auditors to being tech and digital savvy

BDO South Africa – shifting from being traditional auditors to being tech and digital savvy

by Media Xpose

BDO South Africa is a company of audit professionals dealing with accounting and assurance matters, information technology, tax matters and complex valuations. Bonga Mokoena joined BDO as CEO in May 2022. He has extensive experience in both the public and private sector, including in transport, financial services, investment and the energy sector. SA BUSINESS INTEGRATOR spoke to him about challenges and opportunities facing the profession.

What made you want to return to the accounting profession, and how does the expertise you developed in various fields related to commerce help to empower you in this strategic position?

One of the reasons I came back to the profession was for trust; our profession is about trust. Sure, it’s about the confidence in our economy, and it’s about investors, but in a way I can help sustain life. I wanted to contribute to our country and our economy more actively.

What are some of the key challenges facing the sector, and what plans do you have to help address these?

There are a number of challenges facing the profession. The first one is the issue of rebuilding and restoring trust. There is an expectation within the ecosystem that the audit profession will show up to the expectations of many, to lend credibility to the business and to the economy. Because we give assurance to a number of issues that give people trust, and confidence to invest in our economy. From a foreign direct investment that’s very critical.

Challenge number two is how do we attract talent within the profession, in light of what is the ‘great resignation and immigration’? All players in the profession face the challenge to attract and retain talent. That must be supported by more investment in learning and development.

Challenge number three is how we react to change and developments such as digital and tech developments. These areas call upon us to innovate, modify and produce new auditing processes, procedures and tools. We need to adapt to new ways of how to audit through tech and digital systems, and structures like the metaverse, crypto assets and investments. How do we audit this and how do we use the tools to audit new systems and structures?

Lastly, how do we keep up with the developments that talk to the broader society as encapsulated in ESG? How do we show up as a profession, in terms of our knowledge? How can we contribute directly, how do we elevate society; how do we elevate communities? How do we ensure sustainability broadly and not just stick to the G, which is governance? But on the social and environmental side, how do we show up?

Those are the four main challenges we are facing as a profession, and we need to respond in a manner that makes a statement that shows we are contributing effectively.

Over the years the accounting and auditing industry has taken a reputational knock. How has BDO fared in this respect?

I think we have done exceptionally well, in the sense that up to this point our reputation remains untarnished as we were not caught up in any “eyebrow raising” events, incidences or scandals professionally, ethically and otherwise. We want to keep it that way, hence in terms of our Clarity Charter we want to hold ourselves to the highest standards of independence, ethics, and being quality driven.

Having taken over the reigns as CEO in May 2022, what are some of the key strategic interventions you have planned for the future?

As far as transformation goes, I am going to be using every opportunity and avenue to fast track our contribution across the spectrum. This includes a number of aspects in terms of small enterprise development, supply development, skills development; the kind of training and exposure we give to our trainee accountants.

I am going to begin to bring about a shift in terms of people being channelled in certain areas, limited areas. I want them to have exposure, even in complex areas such as banking and  financial services across the spectrum. There is no need to be ‘just’ a chartered accountant; you don’t just need to be a registered auditor, but you need certain accreditation by the Prudential Authority by the JSE.

In those areas we have very few people who haven’t previously been given the opportunities. I am going to fast track it, especially at the mid-level upwards. The bottom level is overpopulated, and many companies will announce these numbers but when you start looking at the numbers you see a different picture.

To reinvigorate trust, and to continue the good foundation, we have built with our Clarity Charter, we will continue to hold ourselves to a high standard of ethics, independence, and integrity. Just knowing who we are, and who we are not and being uncompromising on that.

Tell us a bit about BDO’s Clarity Charter, and how this fits in with your personal values?

Our Clarity Charter is our promise to ourselves and the profession to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards of independence, ethics, integrity and quality. It is something that doesn’t just stop when we are done with our jobs at the end of the day. It is who we are in all areas of our lives, and it is definitely the values I live by on and off the job.

How do you envision the company under your leadership impacting progressive and proactive change to unlock growth opportunities in South Africa?

I honestly believe if we do those four things we have touched on, the issue of trust, and authentically addressing issues of transformation, if we authentically work to address all these issues, it will put us on a significant growth trajectory to be the trusted player in the ecosystem, the trusted partner in the market.

How do you see the future of the profession unfolding in terms of  technological transformation, culture, skills development, legislation?

When I talk about digital tech, that’s the transformation we need. We need to shift from being traditional auditors to being tech and digital savvy, in terms of using the tools but also auditing through tech.

As for the culture, we need to be aware, sensitive and attuned to generational nuances. Number one is market dynamics. Two is social-cultural issues and thirdly, the various developmental phenomena – the fourth industrial revolution and digitisation

We need to be attuned to diversity across the spectrum, on all the points I raised – diversity in an untraditional, unconventional manner.

I think skills development falls into my previous points, we need to keep learning. Our skills will be measured by our ability to learn and re-learn. We need to want to learn new skills, re-learn old skills and to be adaptive and agile.

In respect to legislation, policy makers and legislatures are not going to stop evolving and producing new legislation based on the changes. We need to adapt and remain agile and create new tools, processes and procedures that will speak to new legislation. Similarly, to my point above, we need to understand new legislation and adjust to it.

It was reported that a goal you have set for BDO is to emerge as one of the top auditing firms within the next three to five years. Would you say the profession is conservative, or is it ready for change?

Historically, the profession has been seen as conservative and may not have been ready for change, but the change we want to see will be determined by us.

What are some of the key elements required to achieve this goal?

It goes back to what I mentioned previously, to embrace diversity, to be open minded, to be aware of the intangible. There are also tangible issues and developments but also intangible developments which need people to adapt a different set of eyes and have a different perspective of how you see things.

How does BDO’s service offerings differ, and how can this be advantageous with reference to increasing market share?

We are at the forefront of having developed some tech tools. We will be the leaders of the pack in that sense. I am a firm believer of driving organisational development, environmental development through skills and tech –  where innovation is people and tech led. BDO will be a leader on a number of fronts.

You previously said, “auditing is about people”. Can you explain this?

At the core of auditing are people, the professionals. Our clients are people. The CEO and the CFO, the chairperson of the audit sub-committee – these are all people meeting in the marketplace to do business.

Confidence is embedded in people, and trust is something you can only get from people and once you trust someone, you can do business with them.

What would you say are the top three characteristics of a leader?

Humility, being able to listen, and emotional intelligence –  a quiet sense of wisdom. For me wisdom is being able to express your views while also having the ability to listen. It takes wisdom and humility to be able to sit and listen.

For example, if I sit in a meeting and there is someone there who is quiet, it doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have something to say, and in fact the people who are quiet might be the people who potentially have a solution to whatever issue we are discussing.

Your ability to be able to be on the ball, be alert and attentive, and also empathetic is important. Humility goes hand-in-hand with empathy; it comes with a quiet sense of confidence. Giving people a sense of comfort so they can open up is also important. Impactful leaders are leaders who demonstrate a deep sense of showing trust, respect, and empathy.

Looking at your illustrious career, what would you most want to be remembered for?

How I touched lives and made a difference and an impact. There are many ways you can touch people’s lives, even if it is just with a conversation.

BDO South Africa specialises in accounting, tax, consulting and business advisory services. It has a global footprint in 164 countries and territories and nine offices in South Africa servicing more than 49 JSE-listed companies. With a highly customer-centric focus, BDO is committed to being ethical, independent and quality-driven.


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