CFO Shaswat Karki attests to the reality of sustainability and cashless thinking

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It was during his first posting in Kigali that CFO Shaswat Karki became enamoured with Rwanda's people, beauty and systems - and it would be the same factors that drew him back to Africa to lead the finance function at Karan Petroleum.

When Shaswat Karki told his friends in India that he was taking up a job in Rwanda, they all discouraged him from going to "a backward continent". All the media they had consumed about Africa suggested that it was a poor undeveloped dangerous place that one should stay as far away from as possible.

"When I arrived in Kigali in 2016 to take up an accountant job at Mount Meru, I was quite surprised about what a lovely place it is. It is a beautiful city, the people are friendly and the systems work way better than in India," Shaswat says with beaming smile.

Although he completed his accounting studies in India, Shaswat is a native of neighbouring Nepal. He returned home to Kathmandu in November 2019 to work as a manager in finance at Hulas Steel, but the African bug had bit him too hard to stay away from Rwanda. He took up the CFO position at Karan Petroleum in Kigali a year later in December 2020.

Karan describes itself on its website as among the top 10 importers of fuel with a presence in Zambia, Mozambique, DRC, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi and India. In Rwanda, the company has 100 employees with ten of them under the direct supervision of Shaswat in the finance department.

"I have responsibility across the business because my role is not only to ensure the books of account are accurately prepared. I am involved in the day to day running of the business which covers the entire value chain. For this reason, I think I am advancing my business skills here much better than I would if I was in India," he explains.

New challenges

Shaswat says that the most important virtue that he hopes from the people he manages is trustworthiness.

"Having trustworthy, dependable employees frees me up to do more. In finance, ethics is critical because we handle the company’s money. When I am looking for staff to employ, I focus on integrity and a learning attitude more than technical aptitude. The more my staff learn, the better for me because I can also stretch myself to learn new things and face new challenges," he says.

Some of the challenges that Shaswat has to manage include price fluctuations because the oil price fluctuates more frequently than other commodities. The price is sensitive to such world events as the war in Ukraine and conflict in the Middle East.

"We have an additional challenge in East Africa as regards the lack of adequate foreign exchange. The currencies in the region have experienced sharp devaluation which makes it difficult for us to access sufficient dollars to purchase fuel to meet demand. Furthermore, financing is quite expensive here meaning we have extremely high borrowing costs," he states.

As oil is a basic commodity in Rwanda, there is adequate demand for Karan’s products in the country. However, the company does not take it for granted that fossil fuels have a shelf life in a world that is increasingly focused on sustainability.

"Electric cars are likely to be the norm in the next 20 to 30 years. It will take at least a couple of decades in Africa given that there is insufficient investment in renewable energy to power the cars," he says.

Whereas renewable energy is lagging behind, countries such as Rwanda are quite ahead of Shaswat’s native Nepal in some technological aspects. He marvels at how cashless thinking has become cultural with vendors of fuel who are Karan’s customers using mobile money. Furthermore, it takes a couple of hours to open a company in Rwanda and tax compliance has been simplified.

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