Finance chief Flavia Nalubbo looks beyond the credit, debit, credit

post-title

Flavia Nalubbo, the head of Finance for Liquid Intelligent Technologies in Uganda, has spent the bulk of her nearly one-and-a-half decade professional career in the telecoms sector.

Flavia Nalubbo, the head of Finance for Liquid Intelligent Technologies in Uganda, has spent the bulk of her nearly one-and-a-half decade professional career in the telecoms sector.

The sector is at the centre of installing infrastructure to help businesses incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into their operations.

With companies increasingly investing in AI technologies to perform such roles as analysing data, categorising expenses, processing payrolls and detecting fraud, the traditional role of an accountant has come under sharp focus.

“AI is something that we cannot run away from because it is the future where we are all going. It is necessary for businesses in simplifying the work we do as finance professionals,” Flavia says.

This ties in with the  findings of the recent CFO East Africa Man versus Machine survey, which showed that 60 percent of CFOs believe AI will impact their financial processes. A similar number are deeply concerned about the risks and ethical implications of using AI.

Output, interpretation and execution

Flavia says whereas AI is increasingly taking over some of the roles traditionally performed by accountants as firms search for greater efficiency, it is playing a more complementary role. For example, the smart technology cannot take over roles such as giving an audit opinion.

“Why spend 10 hours doing something when it can be done in about an hour?” she quips. “So the ask on our side is to see how best we can fit in and adjust accordingly because AI may give output but may not interpret or execute and vice versa.”

Flavia audited various telcos’ financial statements in the early years of her career, starting as auditor with consultancy PwC in September 2008. She was promoted to audit senior associate in July 2010, a role she held until May 2014.

“I got a lot of exposure on how businesses operate because in auditing you literally move from company to company. My inclination was more into FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] and telecoms. I didn’t have a soft spot for financial services,” Flavia says.

Debit, credit, debit

The jovial finance chief, who smiles throughout the interview, quit her auditor job to join Airtel in May 2014 for career growth after reaching the “peak” of what she wanted to learn from the job at PwC.

“I needed to move and experience something different, but also I had done audits for telecoms for 80 percent of the time I was there. So, I realised that maybe I can get out and see how business is from the kitchen as opposed to the table, if I can put it that way,” she says.

Although Flavia interviewed for the business financial reporting manager job at Airtel, she landed the Business Planning and Forecasting analyst role. Recruitment managers told her she was more suited for the business analyst role, for which she had not applied, based on how she performed during the interview.

“It wasn’t the ‘debit, credit, debit’ job which any typical accountant would expect. It was more of analysis, planning, forecasting, budgeting and evaluating performance for promotion,” Flavia recalls. “It not only gave me deeper insights into business operations, but also made me open-minded in thinking about strategy and other things that affect the numbers that we report on as accountants.”

The more than six-year experience in that job prepared her for the next assignment with Liquid Intelligent Technologies, for which she was headhunted. Flavia first joined the firm as Regional Financial Planning and Analysis manager in March 2021 before she was promoted to finance chief in March 2023.

Mental and physical health

She supervises 16 employees within the finance department comprising three sections, namely mainstream finance, procurement and credit control.

She holds an undergraduate degree in Accounting and Finance from the Kampala-based Kyambogo University and an MBA from Edinburgh Business School of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. She is also a certified public accountant and chartered CA.

Accountancy was, however, not Flavia's dream career as a child. Like most children in early days of elementary education she harboured hopes of becoming a medical doctor, inspired by her aunt. The turning point was in high school when her accounting and commerce teacher remarked that she was a “promising future accountant”.

“It [promising accountant] didn’t leave my head,” she says, stressing that the medical doctor dream was “just a childhood fantasy”.

Flavia describes her managerial style as hands-on with a keen interest in welfare of the people she supervises.

“I believe that when the people are okay in terms of mental and physical health, they will be able to give 100 percent to whatever they do,” she says. “So I focus a lot on employee engagement, but also developing them in terms of coaching and training.”

The finance chief sees the role of an accountant as the “engine” of a company.

“We are the eyes of the CEO in terms of decisions that he needs to make for the business. We also help other stakeholders improve their knowledge of finance, to understand what it is that they bring to the organisation and the impact of their decisions and actions on the performance of the organisations.”

Related articles

7 Questions for CFO Emmanuel Mushi

Emmanuel Mushi is the CFO of DHL Express Tanzania. His expertise is bolstered by previous roles as the head of finance at the Tanzanian subsidiaries of Green Resources AS and important contributions at Deloitte & Touche.

Juma Kalutu: the operational CFO

Azam Media CFO Juma Kalutu took on his first leadership role at the age of 29. CFO East Africa recently caught up with the finance executive to find out more about his career journey and future plans.

Group CFO John Githiomi values independence and innovation

As head of finance at then KenolKobil (now Rubis Energy Kenya), John Githiomi participated in investor roadshows in different parts of the world between 2017 and 2018. It was through these engagements that the French energy conglomerate, Rubis, became interested in acquiring KenolKobil and, as John was the custodian of financial information, he found himself at the centre of the acquisition.

Top