André du Plessis – Pioneer CFO of ‘the World’s Best Bank’

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André du Plessis – Pioneer CFO of ‘the World’s Best Bank’

Dec 28, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

“I am more of an entrepreneur than an accountant,” affirms André du Plessis.

The evidence dates back to the 60’s. As a fresh-faced Grade 1 toddler, he sold his father’s car!

“I was playing outside and for some reason, I ended up studying the vehicle. I shortly decided that it was time we changed it for something newer and set off looking for a buyer. I started talking to people to find out what would be a good price for the car and in the process got someone who was ready to talk to my father about buying it. My dad wasn’t happy about it, but my mum thought it was a great idea so eventually the car got sold.”

Besides an interest in business studies, André had a juvenile fascination with trees and harboured ambitions of studying forestry. But when he encountered the idea of chartered accountancy in the ninth grade, his career path was sealed.

“I studied accounting, but I definitely have never been your typical accountant. Even during my articles, I was more interested in undertanding the businesses we were auditing.  I wanted to learn what these companies did well, like how they managed their finances and how they handled their clients. Whilst my colleagues would simply execute a debtors circularisation as a matter of routine to verify debtors balances, I would identify such matters as overpricing and poor client relations from that area of audit.”

Co-founding Capitec

André’s pursued articles at then big 5 audit firm Arthur Andersen. He branched off into banking where he met fellow entrepreneurs with whom he co-founded Capitec bank.

“Capitec has been the single most significant achievement of my life,” André reflects. “It has turned out to be the most successful entity that PSG has invested in and is testament to the adage that hard work pays. We have won several accolades over the years, including being recognised as the best bank in the world by the Lafferty Group’s Global Bank Quality benchmarking study. Brand Finance recognised the company as the third strongest banking brand in the world in early 2020.”

Capitec has a brand promise centred around four basic principles: simplicity, affordability, accessibility and personal service.

“We measure ourselves against innovation and total transparency. If it does not fit that criteria, we do not take it to the market. Banking is quite simple although many people do not understand it. The reason for our focus on simplicity is because that is the easiest way to achieve financial inclusion which is quite important in South Africa. During apartheid, banks only looked after a tenth of the population. That has been a big achievement for us to make banking less of a grudge purchase. It is now a product that is accessible and affordable to everyone.”

Awards

André has also been a recent recipient of industry recognition. In 2019, he received two Awards from CFO South Africa: The Compliance & Governance Award and the Finance & Technology Award.  He also scooped the 2019 CFO of the Year Award at CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA).

“I credit my team with the recognition received. We lead over 14,000 people; we cannot do it without the people that work for us. These accolades belong to a team, not to an individual. I have a huge issue with people in management who see things from the “I” rather than “we” perspective. When things go well, people want to be recognised as individuals, yet when things go wrong, they want to look around and bring others in to share the blame instead of using that as an opportunity to consider what they, as individuals, could have done better.”

André considers the jobs they have created and helping the previously unbanked both highlights of his career.

“We are training and equipping people… helping them to grow. We are helping our customers and staff build a credit record that enables them to build homes and take loans for worthwhile causes such as education. Our fees are very affordable; the mere fact we entered into the market saves South Africans R20 billion in bank charges annually.”

The Viceroy saga

One of the lowlights of André’s career came on 30 January 2018.

“We went to bed heroes on the 29th of January and shortly after we woke up on the 30th ,we were zeroes. That is the thin line between roaring success and turbulence. It is a lesson in remaining humble at all times.”

On that fateful morning, Capitec management woke up to the news that Viceroy Research had published a document accusing the bank of massive overstatement of financial assets and reckless lending practices. They claimed that the bank was ‘simply uninvestable’.

“To be accused of dishonesty was extremely upsetting. We had to accept that success breeds scrutiny. You cannot control what others say about you, how you react to it is what matters. We were very swift with our reaction, issuing two Stock Exchange News Service (SENS) announcements that same day and convening a Bloomberg News Conference shortly thereafter. We had over 700 lines open where investors could dial in for us to address any concerns.”

André believes that the entire “exposé” was fabricated by the Delaware based research company to short sell Capitec stock. The Viceroy Research website disclaimer does indeed state that readers “should assume that the authors have a direct or indirect position in all stocks and stand to realize monetary gains in the event that the price declines”.

“What I learnt from the Viceroy experience was how to deal with a crisis. If you told me in December 2019 that due to the COVID-19 crisis we would have to send over 3,000 call centre agents home to work from there, I might have said we would not survive. But we have learnt that you have two choices when the unexpected happens, you can choose to be a victim, or you can choose to take it on the chin and make a plan.”

This article is an extract from the book Masters of Money – Strategies for Success from the CFOs of South Africa’s Biggest Companies available here – https://www.takealot.com/masters-of-money/PLID90121297?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAyp-sBhBSEiwAWWzTnmLGsW3EWthrsEzrN69lcPhFqkxkQjPsxSF6CHoP2oj6-XRBtDB5gBoCfA8QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

 

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