CFO Dennis Musau: From failing KCSE to revolutionising banking

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Dennis Musau, chief financial and value officer of Stanbic Bank Kenya and South Sudan, recently engaged in a conversation with CFO East Africa, discussing his career journey, lessons learnt, and what keeps him awake at night.

Dennis Musau, chief financial and value officer of Stanbic Bank Kenya and South Sudan, recently engaged in a conversation with CFO East Africa, discussing his career journey, lessons learnt, and what keeps him awake at night.

CFO EA: How did you end up as an accountant?
Dennis: I was influenced by my late brother. After he completed high school, he enrolled for accountancy professional papers and immediately got a job as an accountant for an export processing zone.

The only other person who was making money in our household was my father who worked for Kenya Power and Lighting Company. My father seemingly worked harder, including on weekends, but my brother seemed to make decent money with much less stress. I focused so much on accounting in high school including - tutoring other students. This, however, came at the expense of other subjects in which I underperformed.

In the end, I failed to attain the entry grade in KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) into university and my father convinced me to repeat form four. I later joined Egerton University for a Bachelor of Science degree and immediately hated zoology and botany. I managed to switch to Agribusiness Management and graduated top of my class. I also took Certified Public Accountant part time classes and was qualified by the time PwC came to recruit at the university. They were well dressed, speaking perfect English and talking about working all over the world. They convinced me to join the company as an audit clerk.

CFO EA: How did your career pan out at PwC?
Dennis: Prior to working at PwC, I had done an internship at PKF where I was introduced to auditing which I enjoyed. It was the same when I started working at PwC, the work was very fulfilling. After five years at the firm, I was interviewed for a secondment opportunity in the London office, but I didn’t make the cut. A partner recommended me to the Johannesburg office which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Going to London would have meant that I step down a rank or two while in Johannesburg I was retained as a manager. Furthermore, the Johannesburg office graciously afforded my wife, who was my colleague at PwC Kenya, a secondment opportunity. I am not sure this would have happened if I went to London. In PwC South Africa, I received great experience in the banking industry and developed deep relationships with the Standard Bank Group, which ultimately led to me joining the banking group where I work today. My involvement in IFRS 9 implementation is one of my PwC career highlights, as I played a leading role in helping Kenyan banks in implementing the accounting standard upon my return in 2018.

CFO EA: Why did you leave PwC?
Dennis: Having worked there for 12 years, I needed a change. The routine of moving from one audit to another; planning, fieldwork, reporting, AGMs, then repeating the cycle again was getting a little boring. It was also very demanding which took me away from family and a regular round of golf.

Having had a taste for the banking industry in South Africa, I was keen to work in financial services and joined Stanbic Bank Kenya initially as the head of integrated operational risk. Risk would not have been my first choice, but it was a good starting point because it afforded me an accelerated understanding of the inner workings of a bank. Working in risk management allows one to ask many questions and meet various people which gave me a deep understanding of what we do, why we do it and how we do it.

CFO EA: Many CFOs mention taxation as one of their main concerns at the moment, does this also apply to you?
Dennis: In the banking sector, the tax changes that have affected us are twofold.

First, there are direct changes such as excise duty charges and higher frequency of submission of withholding taxes collected. In addition to the additional tax burden especially for the employer-borne housing levy portion, there are operational investments required to comply especially with the procedural compliance on withholding tax submissions, which will push up the cost of compliance. We have had to repurpose some resources to do that.

On the other hand, our clients are squeezed by the unholy trinity of rising interest rates, currency depreciation and persistent inflation. Add those factors to the new and higher tax measures and you have generally lighter wallets from which customers are to meet their living and business operating expenditures, as well as pay bank debts. For higher leveraged customers, it is possible that credit defaults may follow.

CFO EA: What else is currently keeping you awake at night?
Dennis: Beyond the potential credit risk that may result from reduced customer disposable incomes, the other risk worth mentioning is cyber risk, especially arising from third party relationships. The recent widely reported “Anonymous Sudan” distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on Kenyan public and private enterprises is a case in point.

Whether directly affected or not, the banking sector is increasingly interconnected with other industries and government bodies that such even indirect attacks could wreak havoc to customer service. Third party risk management especially regarding the robustness of cyber defences and business continuity plans of critical vendors becomes as important as internal cyber-fortresses.

CFO EA: You just released half-year numbers for Stanbic Kenya, how has the bank performed?
Dennis: We are in the last year of our three-year strategy which we began in 2020/21. Our net profit after tax has been growing steadily by 38 percent in 2021, 26 percent in 2022 and now 47 percent in the first half of 2023.

The good performance is anchored on three things. First, focusing on improving our client experience through a coordinated investment in digital customer service tools including partnerships. Secondly, we’ve continued to invest in operational excellence in our operations. Thirdly, we pride in creating sustainable value for our clients and all stakeholders. Our commitment to the communities in which we operate continues unabated through the Stanbic Foundation work which is focused on financial inclusion and empowerment.

In executing this strategy, we have pivoted on and continuously harnessed the power of our brand in our core competencies as a corporate investment bank and a strong global markets house; we continue to receive accolades for excellence in these areas of the market.

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