CFO Nicholas Masaba gets into the detail on health being the new wealth

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Nicholas Masaba, CFO of C-Care Health Uganda (C-Care Uganda), firmly believes that his key priority is not the bottom line. Rather, he points out, it is the wellbeing of patients.

Nicholas Masaba, CFO of C-Care Health Uganda (C-Care Uganda), firmly believes that his key priority is not the bottom line. Rather, he points out, it is the wellbeing of patients.

“We have a strategy in place that we revisit every year and we focus on the key facet of the business, which is providing affordable quality healthcare to the patient. That drives the vision and once you get that right, all the other aspects such as profitability, fall into place,” he says.

"The numbers are just an outcome. What do you do in order to get to your numbers? Focus on providing premium quality services that will leave the patient happy and willing to come back if they should fall sick again,” he adds.

For Nicholas, who leads a centralised finance team, providing quality healthcare revolves around people; the doctors, nurses and other key staff, infrastructure and location i.e. proximity to your patients.

This passion can be traced back to high school as the subjects he studied would have given him the opportunity to take on a career in medicine.

“But I remember that I was in the biology lab operating on a rabbit and I realised that I did not have the stomach for it. My next best option was engineering so I pursued a bachelors in Civil Engineering in the Makerere University and graduated with a first class degree,” he says.

“Engineering was not necessarily my passion so when PricewaterhouseCoopers Uganda (PwC) came knocking in my last year of university I opted to try out for it, and that is how my career in finance started, as an associate in one of the Big 4,” he adds.

No walk in the park

As a result of choosing this path, Nicholas also got the opportunity to work in a number of countries, including Kenya and the United Kingdom.

“I can say that I got into finance given the clear career progression path set out before me and now, looking back, I got exactly what I expected,” he says proudly.

However, navigating the intricacies of leading the finance function of one of Uganda’s leading private medical groups is no easy feat.

"It's not a walk in the park. We are a private healthcare conglomerate and basically the biggest player in the market. We run a hospital, 21 clinics and fully-fledged laboratory facilities with the widest network in the country," he says.

Following its acquisition in 2016, the company, which was formerly the International Medical Group Limited, was recently rebranded to C-Care Uganda giving a sense of standardisation with its ultimate parent, C-Care International Limited domiciled in Mauritius.

Nicholas acknowledges that there were legacy issues that came with the acquisition of the hospital and clinics, and that instilling structure and controls was an uphill task. “We have been working, over the past four years, on putting structures in place and enhancing efficiencies within the business. We started with the physical controls and processes, and then implemented new IT systems which enabled seamless transactions across the group from the same platform, and mining of big data," he explains.

Reciprocity

From an organisational structure perspective, C-Care Uganda comprises three entities, viz. the clinics, which are also referred to as C-Care IMC; the hospital, C-Care IHK and IMG Pharmaceuticals.

Each entity has a dedicated finance manager, and Nicholas’ belief that each unit’s finance manager should be aligned with the unique dynamics of their operation, has certainly played a part in ensuring a smooth transition post-acquisition.

"I think it's a question of empowering, and empowering can sometimes just be a word that we throw around. It's also about giving staff the tools they need to execute. Once the staff have the knowledge and the tools, then they shall reciprocate through their output,” he says.

“To me leadership requires that if your team member makes a mistake that puts the finance team in bad light, a leader needs to step in and say, ‘this is our team, we made the mistake and we're going correct it’ as a unit,” he adds, “However, that team member would need to shape up and learn from that mistake.”

Reflecting on the highlights of his career, Nicholas points to strategic decisions that reshaped the healthcare group's trajectory. This included shedding loss-making entities, such as the International Air Ambulance (which is currently under liquidation), and bringing the lab in house, which were pivotal moves that positively impacted the bottom line.

This was no easy feat considering the number of stakeholders involved.

“Given the service-nature of the business, stakeholders in this industry are literally double what you get in other industries. You have the doctors, the patients, regulators, the Ministry of Health, accreditation bodies for the various specialties, etc,” he explains.

With specific reference to the finance function, compliance to tax regulation is high on Nicholas’ list of priorities.

“The great thing about healthcare is that the majority of medical assets procured and services provided to patients are exempt from VAT. On the flip side, we have to play our part as law abiding citizens in remitting corporate tax, withholding tax; given that we are designated WHT agents and PAYE, etc.” he says.

Medical tourism

Looking to the future, Nicholas sees medical tourism as a ripe opportunity for growth.

"I think there is a perception that if you go to India or South Africa, you’ll get better medical treatment. That’s largely because the doctors there have access to the latest equipment to perform non-invasive procedures, such as laser surgery and arthroscopies (keyhole surgeries). Patients can get out of the hospital in two days as opposed to two weeks,” he explains.

“That's an area that presents an opportunity and we are investing in equipment, and cutting-edge technology that will enable people to enjoy all those benefits within our borders.” he adds.

“After all,” Nicholas concludes, “Health is the new wealth, and that brings it all into perspective for an industry like ours that is both challenging and, in the same breath, fairly rewarding.”

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