Q&A with Zainab Msimbe, incoming CEO of PwC Tanzania

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Zainab, the incoming country senior partner effective 1 July 2024, currently serves as the country operations partner, overseeing the firm's financial affairs and spearheading the Learning and Methodology Practice. She spoke to CFO East Africa about the firm's role in assisting CFOs meet their objectives and their support of the community as principal partner.

Zainab Salome Msimbe is a partner at PwC Tanzania with extensive experience in auditing, accounting, financial due diligence, and performance management reviews across diverse sectors, including banking, insurance, pension funds, manufacturing, hospitality and tourism. Zainab, the incoming country senior partner (CSP) effective 1 July 2024, currently serves as the country operations partner, overseeing the firm's financial affairs and spearheading the Learning and Methodology Practice. She spoke to CFO East Africa about the firm's role in assisting CFOs meet their objectives and their support of the community as principal partner.

Why do you think PwC should back a community of CFOs in East Africa?

Since 1947, our firm has operated across East Africa, gaining an in-depth understanding of the regional business environment. We've supported CFOs through technological shifts from analogue to digital and political changes like the evolution of the East African community. In recent years, disruptive global trends have accelerated the need for business transformation, especially in finance. In Tanzania, this has highlighted the importance of data-led insights and rapid scenario modelling for decision-making. PwC positions itself as an invaluable partner to CFOs and finance functions, helping them navigate complexities with agility and foresight through human-led, tech-powered solutions. We believe a vital finance function is essential for competitiveness, growth, and sustainable development, transforming challenges into innovation and success.

What is your view of the role of the CFO in business?

Drawing insight from the findings of our Global CFO 2024 agenda report, it is evident that the CFO role has transitioned from traditional boundaries to one of the most challenging positions in the C-suite. Disruption has accelerated the change in the CFO’s role and reinforced the need to transform and adapt to the new world where new skills, behaviours and working methods are required in a leading finance function. In the past, good accountants with knowledge of debits and credits and how to prepare financial statements, were considered fit for CFO positions. However, things are changing and companies are looking for visionary leaders with a strategic focus to take CFO positions. The CFO's role is, therefore, evolving to encompass a broader strategic focus, data-driven decision-making, digital transformation leadership, commerciality, supply chain, change management and a stronger emphasis on value creation.

What challenges are professional services firms facing in East Africa?

The professional services sector in East Africa faces a tumultuous landscape marked by evolving client expectations, regulatory changes and technological advancements. Firms must innovate in client engagement and service delivery to stay competitive, necessitating sharpened analytical and predictive skills. Significant investments in technology and talent are crucial, balanced against effective cash flow management. Navigating regulatory landscapes, such as Tanzania's Data Protection Act, and enhancing business resilience, including cybersecurity, are imperative. Any missteps can lead to severe financial penalties and reputational damage, impacting a firm's ability to secure future work.

Please provide insights as to how your firm supports CFOs in meeting their objectives.

Given the unique needs of CFOs, PwC tailors each solution with flexibility in a manner that achieves the highest quality and minimises risk, enabling CFOs to attain their objectives with confidence and precision. With a pool of expertise spanning from assurance, tax, deals, consulting and risk services, and regulatory, the firm offers a holistic service to guide CFOs. It is an end-to-end offering covering activities such as making new investments, undertaking transformation initiatives, tax and regulatory compliance, accounting advice and financial reporting, and co-creating business strategies. 

Recent examples of how PwC assists CFOs in their roles include enabling them to implement new accounting standards, sustainability reporting and meet awards for their financial statements, given how well they comply with the requirements from regulators and IFRS accounting standards. Recently, we assisted one of our clients in assessing the commercial viability of an investment arrangement and another client in implementing hedging measures to cope with foreign currency shortages. 

In various capacities, we have recommended ways of streamlining business processes, including automation of processes and taking advantage of the recently announced guidance of IFRS for SMEs by the NBAA. We aid CFOs in their risk management responsibilities by recommending procedures to identify, measure and report key risks. We do all these by investing in technology, upskilling our staff and leveraging our multidisciplinary skills drawn from both our local and international capabilities. 

What pain points are you seeing CFOs experience currently, and what advice would you have towards tackling them?

Both challenges and opportunities mark the new era for CFOs. Navigating the complexities of global economic conditions, including interest rate fluctuations and geopolitical tensions, requires a deep understanding of macroeconomic factors. Financial planning and decision-making is affected by uncertainties. CFOs must stay abreast of the latest technological trends, such as generative AI and cloud computing, and understand their implications for financial strategy and operations.

Additionally, these challenges also present opportunities for CFOs to demonstrate their strategic value. By leveraging technology to enhance financial forecasting, risk management and decision-making, CFOs can drive business growth and resilience. Embracing these opportunities allows CFOs to redefine their role and impact within the C-suite.

Briefly describe your professional career background and please share your thoughts on assuming the role of country senior partner of PwC Tanzania.

I started my career at PwC about 20 years ago as a fresh finance graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam and a CPA (T). After working for one year, I quit my career at PwC and joined the banking industry as an internal audit manager. I joined the then African Banking Corporation but returned to PwC after a year because I missed auditing different organisations. PwC offered me the opportunity to specialise in the financial services industry. This suited me as I was not required to travel much allowing me to pursue an MBA programme.

Three years after re-joining the firm, I had an opportunity to work in PwC Uganda on a two-year secondment. In 2014, I assumed the responsibility of growing our Arusha office; it was a great experience for me, which prepared me for subsequent leadership roles in the firm. In 2016, I was admitted as the first Tanzanian female partner, which meant that I needed to up my leadership skills to meet expectations.  In 2021, I was appointed country operations partner, a role that presented me with challenges and opportunities that I have grasped, thanks to the support of fellow partners and staff.

I encourage fellow women not to shy away from additional responsibilities that arise during their careers. Instead of focusing on origin, family or educational background, they should concentrate on their future goals. Our backgrounds should not limit our destinies— as Eliud Kipchoge, the renowned Kenyan marathoner, aptly said, "No human is limited".

As an incoming CSP, I am excited to serve our staff and stakeholders in this capacity. I am confident that with the support of my partners and the unique talents of our staff who make PwC what it is, we will continue maximising our unique ingenuity and capabilities powered by technological innovation, to solve important problems in our community and create a lasting impact on society. This aligns with our New Equation strategy, which focuses on a multidisciplinary perspective powered by technology.

Lastly, I would like to thank our outgoing CSP, David Tarimo, for how far he has brought the firm and the legacy of a solid and capable leadership team he is leaving behind. I will continue building on the work already done, and I believe that together with my partners and our staff, we will collectively write the next chapter of PwC Tanzania and take it to the next level.

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