A head for figuring out black success
ACAREER in auditing was not a conscious decision for Sindiswa Zilwa, newly installed national managing partner of Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba. Rather, following a family tradition, she merely "submitted" to her mother's notion that a career in bookkeeping was a sure way of securing a job.
Not that she's complaining. After the departure of her predecessor, Sizwe Nxasana, to head up Telkom, Zilwa is now at the helm of one of the largest black accounting firms in SA. Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba has 13 partners, 144 staff and a turnover in excess of R22-million. She intends to grow turnover to about R100-million in the next three years.
She was previously the company's senior partner in the Eastern Cape, where she is credited with having increased the provincial division's contribution to group turnover.
Like many of its black accounting peers, Nkonki's work comes primarily from the public sector, which has been providing black accounting firms with business. Only 15% of the company's work comes from the private sector, but Zilwa says Nkonki's focus will now be on growing that side of the business.
But in doing so, the firm will face obstacles. The problem is twofold. To a large degree, black accounting firms have remained mostly small. As a result, they lack the critical mass to audit large companies. To offset this handicap, Nkonki led the first of many mergers by black accounting firms in the past two years. The mergers have led to the creation of three medium-sized firms with reasonable capacity.
Yet they still lack the means to audit very big companies, and estimates suggest that at current size, these firms could realistically expect to audit companies with accounts of about R10-million.
However, shortcomings in size have led to innovative ways of increasing capacity.
The first is joint auditing partnerships between the black firms and other companies to carry out audit work, mostly at parastatals.
The second is bringing together a number of black firms under one umbrella, and pairing them with one of the big six.
An example is APF Incorporated, which houses a number of leading companies, including Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba. The Ministry of Public Enterprises awarded APF the contract to sign off Transnet's accounts with Ernst & Young.
The joint arrangements with existing firms enable black companies to tap into an existing skills base, providing them with the opportunity to audit big clients.
On the other hand, structures like APF Incorporated may well spur black firms to consolidate even further, possibly leading to the creation of a mega-firm. Zilwa admits as much and says the mergers may not yet have come to an end.
But the main stumbling block for companies making inroads into the private sector remains mainstream business perceptions that black accounting firms cannot deliver.
"Yes, we have a capacity problem, but the level of growth is dependent on the demand for services, and the challenges to which the private sector exposes firms. The private sector needs to change its mindset and provide growth opportunities to emerging companies," says Zilwa.
Nkonki is, however, beginning to make inroads into these areas. Among its clients are three listed JSE companies.
Zilwa says one of the most critical challenges facing SA is a shortage of qualified black chartered accountants. Out of a total of about 17 000 CAs in SA, less than 140 are black. Indeed, black firms have borne the brunt of this shortage, as it hampers attempts to grow organically.
To this end Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba is to develop its human resource base by increasingly investing in research and development. In the past year it has spent more than R300 000 in developing business, interpersonal and technical skills.
Born and educated in the Eastern Cape, Zilwa obtained her BCompt honours and Certificate in Theory of Accountancy from the University of South Africa. She qualified as a chartered accountant in 1990 and two years later was awarded an Advanced Taxation Certificate by Unisa.
She has served with WL Nkuhlu & Co, Deloitte & Touche, Unisa and the University of Transkei (as a lecturer), before co-founding Filtane Nkonki and Company. This was followed by Nkonki and Nkonki, which later became Nkonki Sizwe Ntsaluba.
She serves on a number of boards, including the Eastern Cape Provincial Interim Housing Board (deputy chairperson), the Association of Black Accountants (chairperson of the Umtata branch), and the TNBS Mutual Bank - formerly the Transkei National Building Society. She is also chairperson of the Mutual Bank's audit committee.
An exponent of black upliftment, Zilwa led her firm to donate R100 000 and R50 000 to the universities of Transkei and Fort Hare.
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