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Home  »  Banker SA   »   Creating A Strong Footing For Future Leaders EDITION 08 2013

Creating A Strong Footing For Future Leaders

Education is vital for our country and our industry, says FirstRand CEO, Sizwe Nxasana.
FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana
EDITION 08 2013
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EDITION 08 2013

Appointed CEO of the banking group in January 2010, Sizwe Nxasana sees himself committed to the executive leadership of FirstRand for, at least, the next five years. However, according to Nxasana, what he will not do is occupy the seat for more than 10 years. ‘The next five years will be challenging, but exciting as we focus on growing the domestic business in an innovative way – expanding into the rest of Africa and building traction in India,’ says Nxasana.

‘I’ve always believed that it’s not a good idea for a CEO to remain the head of a company for longer than 10 years. I was the CEO of Telkom for almost eight years when an opportunity became available at FirstRand Bank to become the CEO of banking operations. I had already been a non-executive director of FirstRand Bank and I was attracted by the group’s owner-manager culture.’ Questioned about what legacy he is trying to build at FirstRand, Nxasana responds: ‘I’m not really looking to build a legacy, except to ensure that when I’m gone this business is on a very strong footing to grow in the future.

‘I inherited an exceptional franchise and a fantastic management team from the founders, Laurie (Dippenaar), Paul (Harris) and GT (Ferreira), and I’ve focused on appropriately building on that legacy. Especially the owner-manager culture, the innovation and the unique business model,’ he explains.

In a society where South Africa’s historically disadvantaged youth find it hard to identify solid black professionals, Nxasana has demonstrated that he has the talent and skills to run a bank considered to be one of the best performers in South Africa.

A qualified chartered accountant, Nxasana says his path to the accounting profession was inspired by Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu. Nkuhle, who qualified as the first African chartered accountant in South Africa, was a lecturer at the University of Fort Hare where Nxasana enrolled for a BCom Marketing degree. Nkuhlu was behind the establishment of the Midlands Economic Equity Group (MEEG), which owned the MEEG Bank in the Eastern Cape.

‘The accounting profession prepared me for corporate leadership generally, not just in banking, but also in telecommunications as the CEO of Telkom.’ Because of his choice to remain employed in the corporate sector, one would question whether Nxasana has lacked the entrepreneurial flair to start up his own business. But that idea is far from the truth. Nxasana has transcended both the entrepreneurial and senior executive worlds.‘South Africa presents many opportunities for all in different spheres of our economy. I believed I could make a contribution in corporate South Africa,’ he explains.

Nxasana, who began his career at Unilever, started his own auditing firm in KwaZulu-Natal in 1989. Seeing that there were no audit firms owned and run by Africans in the region, Nxasana saw an opportunity to establish Sizwe & Co., a firm which became the first black-owned audit practice in KwaZulu-Natal.

The firm evolved into Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba, and was the first black-owned national accounting practice in South Africa, of which Nxasana became its founding partner. Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba later transformed into SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG), which is today considered South Africa’s fifth-largest accounting firm.

His role as CEO of Telkom in 1998 brought about major career transitions. Nxasana transformed Telkom into a corporate entity, and under him the firm was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2003.

Nxasana is passionate about improving the quality of education in South Africa and says that scarce specialist and technical skills continue to be an issue for the banking industry.

‘The number of high-quality CAs(SA) and actuaries coming into the system is still not sufficient to fill all the vacancies that exist across financial services,’ he points out.

Nxasana is a keen advocate of FirstRand’s proactive education initiatives. ‘At FirstRand we have many initiatives aimed at up-skilling young talent. From grassroots education, through our CSI spend, to running our own graduate, CA(SA) and quants (analysing quantitative data) training programmes. We are doing everything we can to ensure a deep and sustainable pool of skills,’ he says.

He also points out that the core banking skills that South Africa’s banking sector needs today will still be needed in 10 years’ time. Nxasana believes that additional skills in technology will be needed by the banking industry, as banking develops more electronic channels.

To contribute to skills development, FirstRand invests in scholarships and bursaries. The FirstRand Foundation gives opportunities to exceptional young South Africans to study postgraduate degrees abroad through the FirstRand Laurie Dippenaar and Momentum Dippenaar Scholarship programmes.

In the year ended June 2013, the investment value in bursary and scholarship investments amounted to R12.9 million.

First National Bank (FNB), a division of FirstRand, also has an early childhood development (ECD) programme. Between June 2012 and June 2013, the FNB Fund ECD programme exposed more than 3 000 children to early childhood services for the first time and supported more than 150 practitioners to obtaining an ECD certificate.

FirstRand’s ECD investments amounted to R7.9 million. In 2012, FirstRand said its RMB Fund supported a total of 243 grade 12 learners who wrote final mathematics exams, and 183 grade 12 learners who wrote final physical science exams. Of these candidates, 95% passed maths and 88% passed physical science. The maths leadership development programme investment value amounted to R9.3 million. In 2013, the FirstRand foundation established three new programmes. These included a R5.3 million FNB Fund aimed at primary schools, the FirstRand Foundation leadership programme which is committing R7.5 million to develop South Africa’s current and future leaders, and the R2 million KhulaSangam programme aimed at addressing critical skills shortages.

Nxasana says banks also have a responsibility to educate consumers, especially on financial literacy, as well as educating traditional customers to transact comfortably with the new digital technology in banking. He adds that there is room for banks to teach customers to understand budgeting, saving, insurance, borrowing and how interest works.

‘Financial literacy can improve the lives of many South Africans, and banks must empower customers with the right information to enable them to effectively manage their financial affairs and choose the right products for their needs. This is key to a sustainable relationship between banks and customers,’ adds Nxasana.

‘Consumer education is a win-win as both customers and banks benefit.  Today customers are being offered very innovative products and channels, compared to a decade ago. You can do almost everything on ATM’s, computers, and cellphones. While there are always “early adopters” to these methods of transacting, there is still a huge need for banks to assist the more traditional customers becoming comfortable with alternative ways of transacting. This is ultimately very beneficial to customers from a cost and convenience perspective.’ By Phakamisa Ndzamela

SIDE BAR: Nxasana Round-up

Sizwe Errol Nxasana CA(SA), BCom, BCompt (Hons) is one of the first 10 black people to qualify as a chartered accountant in South Africa in 1987, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Fort Hare in 2004.

In January 2006, Nxasana took over as CEO of FirstRand Bank, the wholly-owned subsidiary of FirstRand Limited. In January 2010, he was appointed CEO of FirstRand Limited.

Nxasana’s passion is all about the development of youth and the transformation of the accounting profession. This is evidenced by the role he played within the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants (ABASA), and the fact that he was the longest serving president of the organisation.

In 2001, Nxasana was approached by SAICA (as the CEO of Telkom at the time) to assist with their Thuthuka initiatives. He is currently the Chairman of the Thukuka Bursary Fund.


• Executive Director | FirstRand Limited | 2009 – Present • Chief Executive Officer | FirstRand Limited | 2009 – Present


• Non-Executive Director | FirstRand Limited | 2003 – 2006 • Chief Executive Officer | Telkom SA SOC Ltd | 1998 – 2005 • National Managing Partner | Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba

South Africa | 1996 – 1998 • Non-Executive Director | NBS Boland Bank | 1995 – 1998 • Chairman | Audit Committee | South African Revenue

Services (SARS) | 1995 – 2006 • Non-Executive Director | Development Bank of Southern

Africa (DBSA) | 1995 – 1998 • National President | Barclays Africa Group Limited

South Africa | 1994 – 1998 • Chairman | Msele Hosken Group (Pty) Limited | 1994 – 1996 • Chairman | Barclays Africa Group Limited South Africa |

1991 – 1994 • Finance Accountant | SA Sugar Distributors (Pty) Limited |

1986 – 1989 • Business Advisor | Small Business Development Corporation |

1985 – 1986 • Audit Supervisor | PricewaterhouseCoopers International

Limited South Africa | 1984 – 1986

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