One of the distinguishing features of Miva Open University is its Masterclasses, which offer a unique opportunity for students to learn from and interact with industry experts and accomplished professionals. These engaging and thought-provoking conversations help to connect classroom learning with practical experiences, enabling students to expand their horizons and find new inspiration to excel.
Uyi Akpata shares invaluable insights into the realm of financial accounting during this masterclass, skillfully moderated by Aniekeme Umoh, the Vice President of Operations at Miva Open University.
Aniekeme Umoh: Thank you so much for being here. The audience doesn’t know this, but you’re based in Lagos.
Uyi Akpata: Yes.
Aniekeme Umoh: And you came here to Abuja for your own personal commitments, and you decided to grace us with your presence, give us a couple hours of your time. So we really appreciate it.
Uyi Akpata: Of course. You are all very important people.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. Thank you. So I’ll just really briefly introduce you, And then we’ll get into the questions that we have. Like I mentioned, we have our learners here in Abuja. We have folks who are joining us virtually. So after I’m through the questions that I have, we’ll have questions from the audience here and also from online.
Uyi Akpata: Okay.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. Fantastic. So please help me welcome Mr Uyi Akpata. Uyi is the Emeritus country senior partner for PwC Nigeria and regional senior partner for PwC West Africa. Uyi joined the renowned accounting firm, Coopers and Lybrand, which today is known as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in October of 1984, and he became partner in October 1992. In his 26 years as partner, Uyi served as assurance engagement leader in the audits of clients, especially in the oil and gas industry. Some of his notable clients include Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Oando. He has also supported clients in the downstream and services subsectors in the oil industry, and in the area of strategy and operations advisory service. Uyi is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
And among his other business and professional interests. Uyi is chairman of the Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce Professional Services Group, Co-chairman of the private sector advisory group on SDGs, and a governor of the capital club, Lagos, amongst others, and I really mean amongst others. Plus, most notably for us at MIVA, Uyi is one of our distinguished Board of Trustees members. And we are so grateful to have him here. Thank you so much, Uyi.
Uyi Akpata: Thank you everyone here.
Aniekeme Umoh: Yeah. So really quickly before I jump into questions, I’ll just, like, introduce myself super short. My name is Aniekeme Umoh, and I’m the VP of operations here at MIVA. Okay Uyi, Let’s start from the very top.
Uyi Akpata: Yeah.
Aniekeme Umoh: So I know you studied accounting way back in the day; why did you decide to choose that?
Uyi Akpata: Before we start that, I’m sure when you’re reading my bio, it must have been a test or so for them to see whether they could pick it up. I was made a partner in 1992, and you said 26 years.
Aniekeme Umoh: of being a partner?
Uyi Akpata: So it’s actually 31 years. How many of you picked that? To deliberate, to test your accounting. Yes. Talking about that, why did I read accounting? Those days I think someone just gave us the impression that when you are an accountant, you make money. But I also learnt very early that that was not true. Well, I think my dad used to be a renowned Supreme Court judge. He later became the INEC chairman.
I used to see him (it was deliberate then) every evening, sometimes at midnight. I was literally staying back, writing judgments and the whole thing, and he wanted me to read law. I said, okay. So I’ll finish school and go and be reading again. And that’s for the tone. I’ll drop it down, but a close friend of mine; we’ve been friends for about 13, 14 years now. He has an uncle who was a chartered accountant that was in Lagos. He was the former immediate past governor of Lagos state, Ambode. So he told me his uncle was an accountant. I was keen to be an accountant, so we decided that we wanted to study accounting at the University of Lagos. So I will say that was one of my best decisions.
Aniekeme Umoh: That’s so good. So, you know, you studied accounting, and then you went to Coopers & Lybrand. And in just 8 years, you made a partner. What would you attribute to that success?
Uyi Akpata: I would have said luck, but, I’ve just come from a stuff like a talk where a good friend of mine, the MD of Landmark Phone, said you create your own luck based on the position you put yourself in the rest of it. So first and foremost, for situations I prefer that it were. I did my youth service in Kaduna those days. I was in Kaduna, and it was supposed to be, say, you are not in Lagos. You are in the best place of Coopers & Lybrand. But Kaduna provided me with a platform to move things way ahead of what my colleagues in the industry were doing. So within 6 months, I was already leading engagements. There was a whole lot of excitement that people who really wanted me to understand accounting, And we connected that, okay, when I was talking to some of you if you were in Lagos whether virtually or in person. And I said within 3 months or within 6 months, that I learnt more in Coopers & Lybrand in Kaduna then than I did in 3 years in university. It was just that whole thing of reading business reality putting everything in context from what I see. So I was really enjoying myself. So the situation will present itself ough for me, any at every moment. So the next great thing was to qualify, in 18 months, and then the thing was to go to. We did hear about Jack Max starting the third party Jack Max those days.
So I was really looking forward to that. And somewhat of one funny reason, somebody else that’s no I shouldn’t be in the UK then, but instead, there were opportunities there in Liberia. At that time, we were looking for expatriate accountants, and that Liberia gave me an opportunity to really do more than what I would have been doing in terms of, so there were all aspects of what Business of accounting was, they were just about the certain businesses, building relationships, and those. And the network I created based on people I met at that time was long-lasting.
It can be easily understood that there are no barriers to the time you can make partner. So I returned to Nigeria, as head of technical training and education, and made a few comments here and there. I think the opportunity was just there. It was time to make a partner at that time. So as I said, hard work, diligence, enjoy what I believe. Building relationships with people presented me with an opportunity. And guess what I grabbed it and opened it up.
Aniekeme Umoh: As you should. Alright. So still on this theme of, Cooper’s and Lybrand, which then, of course, became PwC after it was acquired.
Uyi Akpata: Yeah.
Aniekeme Umoh: So you’ve been there for well almost 31 years now. Right?
Uyi Akpata: That’s 39 years.
Aniekeme Umoh: Yeah. The 8 plus that’s a long time. I mean, it’s longer than some of our learners have been alive. So how did you decide to commit to one company for the whole time?
Uyi Akpata: You know, it is a very, very funny question. You know none of them showed any excitement when you said I have been in one organization for 39 years. I mean, I took over as regional senior partner about 9 years ago. But before then, my profession allowed me to be leading the session for new joiners. So people used to join me. And I say, okay yeah, I’ve been in the organization for like, 26 years. They’re all excited and I just noticed about 6, 7 years ago when I say the same thing there is this look like is something wrong with you? What have you been doing in one location for that long? So I’ve changed the narrative that no matter what, even if you want to spend one week here, or want to spend 30 years like me. It’s just to enjoy what you do. Be passionate about what you want to do and then really understand what you do.
So for me, it sounds like I was in one organization for all this kind of time, but it could easily have been made during 14 different jobs once every year. And that’s what the accounting professional offers. For you to challenge yourself in different aspects of life. So whether you’re in one company moving from one department to the other or having a different role, you could see yourself playing a management accounting role in one organization. Then the next you are doing financial accounting, business analysis the rest, and it just seems like you are in a different job itself.
So it’s just what you do, and I was lucky. So fortunate that at any moment in time, I have those opportunities and challenges of going into industry in terms of industry knowledge, oil and gas. In charge of training for a long time leadership roles. There are some really, really exciting opportunities to work with some key clients where I show that anytime. I saw and engaged with the CEO of organizations such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Sandesera Brothers and the rest. I was sort of like a masterclass of business with my interaction with them. It’s been exciting and I will do it all over again.
Aniekeme Umoh: That’s wonderful. Okay. So, of course, we have a couple accounting students here. Amongst others, we have other students here as well, but we want to be able to ask some fundamental accounting questions that you can share some, like, real-life applications to. So what are, like, the 3 financial statements, and and how do they help your investors, these folks you had your masterclasses with to make informed decisions?
Uyi Akpata: Okay. Now I gotta stop because I can’t remember the last time I talked about fundamentals of accounting. So if I go off track, those of you who have just been taught recently debit the receiver, credit the receiver, and all those kinds of things then you now go on track. But ultimately, I think the IAS one tells you about what financial statements you really like. Financial provision which in those days used to be the balance sheets.
Aniekeme Umoh: You said IS – income statement?
Uyi Akpata: No International Accounting Standards we talked about; then the defence and the cash flows dependable. So those are the three traditional ones. They now have equity. But, you talk about the physical financial provision which is just the balance sheet. So what’s the snap? I mean, it’s a picture Financial position of a particular entity. That’s one particular entity. But, we’re gonna spend most of our time looking at all of those things and reading up about it. But what’s more important is that without understanding that business, that accounting information being captured at one position does not make sense.
So I can give you a typical case. Somebody comes in before you learn. I want to show that they have huge net worth they tell you that, okay, I want to do a major transaction with you. You are normally like the 5,000,000 naira business. Then on the 30th December, someone who says, okay, he wants to create a transaction with you and you are going to send goods worth 50,000,000 naira.
So what happens is that you are not even going to put sales of 50,000,000 so you are going to put him as a debtor. Then suddenly, your financial position grows; but at the end of the day, guess what? You will have the substance to understand in that business. So beyond those numbers, there are other things you are taking into consideration, really understanding the real nature of the transaction and other things. So guess what? At the end of the day that sales transaction in a week’s time can be reversed. Once you’ve already captured that position, you have all other things that no text directory notes that are going inside; which operations and all the other things I take into consideration. I’m saying a lot of these people will see all of that, but it begins to make sense when you understand the real business of why those transactions are taking place. So you take a step back while it’s up before you tell me to move on.
Aniekeme Umoh: So I think you kind of touched on some of these in your previous response, but what are some more challenges or limitations that people will run into if they’re just relying on the financial statements?
Uyi Akpata: I mean, as I said, understanding the business is really fundamental for, everybody; there’s been a lot of transformation that needs to be done. I’ve seen it over in over 40 years, almost 40 years now. People are beginning to report things about sustainability, wider action, but let’s restrict it. So since this accounting for business fundamentals. I think you need to understand the accounting policies. So what’s the accounting contingent? For instance, going back to that same analogy I gave about those debts. So if, for instance, you have a sales transaction, a debtor, you decide from that’s okay; my accounting policy says I should make provisions for bad debts when it gets 365 days.
And then next year they switch because it suits you for 6 months. Oh 2 or 3 years, oh this person will connect us. So consistency is really, really important. Then you have all other broader issues in terms of regulations and the sense of does it really makes sense. At the end of the day, as I said, if somebody says, okay. I’m sending the car to you. And that car is a Corolla and they are selling it for 40,000,000 naira. It’s not just enough to record it. That’s 40 million. By the way, a used Corolla, not even a brand new one is 40,000,000. So you totally need to understand what’s that. So when the fund has been created from that transaction it is very big. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, during the matriculation, I said one of most of us here are in business, having an opportunity on a real time business to practice what we are learning so it’s easier to put this in perspective. We didn’t have so much of that luxury, at that time. So just sharing understanding of those transactions is really key. Again, let me go back to this because it’s instructive, and that’s been one of the reasons why I believe I lasted this long when it comes to my career. But the standard accounting principles and concepts and just cramming doesn’t make sense if you cannot apply it to real sense. So I talked about my life, the Liberia experiences, and when I said it was a life-changing moment for me. As I said, I was sent to Liberia, And then I felt I was the smartest person in the world, a 24-year-old chartered accountant expatriate.
So I was dealing with this 54-year-old CPA experienced expatriate who was working for a rubber processing company here. So being the smart colleague where I was, every Monday, I used to go and tell him about sharing my audit text, my findings as it were with him. And then I spent time using that opportunity to make sure appreciation, you got more depreciated assets. Your assets for, like, last 8 months, depreciation is so so and is not on bank record. The advantage of date bank record station is so so. Fortunately, I think like 6 months later he had to go and see his wife in the UK who had a cancer scare at that time. And he was gonna wait for 1 month. And then, you know what? So there’s a smart Nigerian guy who can act as CFO for 1 month, when I’m not away. And, those days they didn’t have the strictness surrounding independence. Anyway, it was not a separate entity, so it was together.
So from a Wednesday, when he informed me that I was taking over, the next Monday, I was sitting on that seat where the guy was, that’s the cool concept of putting yourself in. It was then I quickly realized in less than 48 hours that the bank accounts I was telling him about were all dormant and not relevant at that time. So I kept harassing him. And I didn’t really understand the business. The most pressing things to be at that time are things around chrome rubber, the out grass. They are bringing the raw rubber, the rubber comes, you wait. You’re getting the right weight. There is what the right weights for the rubber. So you’re not getting the right weight, then it goes to the production plan. The production section where you process the rubber, what quantity it comes out at the end of those things. So then how do you now send regular financial statements or management accounts to the owners of the business. So those whole thing look like we don’t understand that.
I don’t understand it because I wasn’t really doing an effective audit. So I keep hammering on it because at the end of the day it taught me 2 things. First, is about really understanding the business before you do anything. And secondly, when you show respect and putting yourselves in each other’s shoes. So since the age of 24, more than almost 35 years later, I’ve never confronted a client with say, I know it all the position without first putting myself in that person’s permission to say, okay; if I was in his shoes, how would I deal with this matter? So I learned very early on not to be an arrogant Coopers and Lybrand auditor. And that’s just offshipped my career, today. So understanding the business is crucial and some transaction for everybody. I mean, I know your fundamental accounting but I try to come here to tell you about it. I actually asked for it, but when I saw it was 314 pages I said no I won’t touch it.
Aniekeme Umoh: I told you it was a big book.
Uyi Akpata: Yeah.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. So, Actually, I’m curious; this is for me, and I think that some people here are also interested in forensic accounting. You know, the topics of money laundering and, you mentioned, already changing policies when it suits you. So in your experience, what are some common red flags or indicators of bad practice, potential money laundering when you’re reviewing a company’s financial records?
Uyi Akpata: In those days, they used to tell us things like, okay, we have an extra dominant CEO or CFO, just beware, they want to grab it to you or but then most of you might be internal, so I don’t want you to go and confront your CEO/CFO and say yes. because you are telling me why did I not go to work because you are committing fraud or something.
But today, look at some of those professional… at all times. I will digress a bit because I know the audience may differ from those of us who are auditors and those who are really accountants in organizations. So I think it just goes back to that saying about the first, know your clients. It’s very clear. So when we say KYC KYC KYC. I mean, sometimes they tell us we are slow in terms of accepting clients, but we just want to know and understand clients. So this is who are the people you are dealing with? It’s very important because at the end of the day, you could see money laundering with a quick search and you can find out things about company rentals. So that’s one of the things we do so in terms of, identity of the type of people we deal with. But coming down to the specifics, the red flags will come from the nature of the transaction. Just think back, ‘Will a reasonable person do this?’ ‘Will a reasonable person undertake this transaction? So if your boss comes in and says that analogy, oh we just made a sale of 35,000,000 naira. Rather than get excited, if you are a production company, so there is a fast-moving company producing biscuits and you just made a sale of 35 million naira then you record it and all; what will be the first thing I will do? It’s very easy to get excited to get, credit debtors and the rest and if you are not even careful with how to determine the profit margin that goes straight to the bottom. Everybody’s jubilating.
So that skpetisim and understanding catches thing from the beginning. But from the high-level perspective, is just see where there’s incentives, so where there’s breakdown of controls. And we don’t use to say those, things where you have multiple use. I mean, you get to see everybody talk about, At least listen to those attempts with me because you’ll find out that I’m saying all of these now that basic accounting and the principle is very important, because that’s why you apply subsequently. They’re extremely important for us. So when you see somebody, same person who is having treasury function, also doing financial accounting functions and dual roles, then incentive and environment is created to do those kinds of things. So that’s why when we go in first, we say okay we ant to understand the client’s control and environments so see where there is high risk.
Then there is the transactional risk, components of financial statements where there’s still no matter what, just look out for things around revenue and revenue recognition, that’s quite clear where there’s a high volume of tax. And these days, of technology. The incidents of fraud have increased in this age than when we were doing a lot of things manually. So you need to see what you can do to address that.
So what are the controls they write about our integrity of the systems who are in financial reporting and all the others.
Aniekeme Umoh: I’m so happy you mentioned technology but in the context of, you know, the crimes being committed. So on the flip side, what technologies does a company like PwC use to detect some of these instances of fraud?
Uyi Akpata: I was specifically told not to say what PWC uses because that way, some of the competitors… But these days everybody uses technology; there are tools where they have digital labs where work is done in terms of analyzing exceptional transactions. So data analytics will even just pick up unusual trends. So they can be disruptive. In terms of business work, but before I go back, let me just digress a bit. About 4 years ago, I read in what I think was the World Economic Forum; they put out a study, and this was in 2018; that one of the top 10 disappearing jobs may be Accounting. So we have the privilege of being number 5 on that list. But guess what? Accountants or people who are doing accounting because of their background training are actually being best placed or positioned to deal with these energy trends. So it actually created an opportunity for people to be more because of just that backgrounds.
Well, that’s on the actual accounting, but, because now you have things that we aid you to make those business, but without understanding of those, it will come to not. I am. So there are things around this. People actually develop labs; there is actually forensics labs where some accounting professionals are working with organizations such as EFCC
These days, particularly money laundering, tracing funds moving from one place to another is very … but in horse there are different types of things we have come up with and most of the major or specific audit firms or forensics accounting firms have come up with to detect some of these things. But to me, I always want to keep it simple. At the end of the day, just invent it to understand those controls around that’s captured at that level. So we need to set the integrity of the system itself.
Aniekeme Umoh: Right. And when you mentioned labs, are those digital or virtual labs or any, like, physical forensic labs that are being set up?
Uyi Akpata: I was talking about physical labs. But now I actually, PWC has an experience center in Lagos; maybe one of these days where you have, maybe sight visits or something like that, we can invite some of your students to that lab. It talks about everything relating to energy technology. So you see, it’s a virtual way to do trends. But data is key. So it is easy to flag unusual transactions, and then dig deeper to see how things go. So we have this experience center. It’s not just lab scientist, it is just all about data.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. We switching gears just a little bit. Can you share some insights into the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges that auditors and forensic accountants in the firm face?
Uyi Akpata: First and foremost, let me say it’s very clearly in here, if you don’t enjoy what you do, then look for something else. Because it’s only when you enjoy what you do that you can overcome any kind of challenge, and that has been my overall principle. But, typically, over time, we’ve always talked about pressure, that’s even a little bit more intense when it comes to this time where we have, staff partition, it’s across the board, so people are significantly under pressure. We sort of help guys work virtually on some days and, which has just been so helpful.
So to me, I look at that from my own point of view, I always believe that when you have clients, we build a strong enough brand, we have enough expertise to go in there and get revenue and do work so there is a trajectory that we do work. But what keeps me awake is ‘What are my people thinking? What are the challenges they’re having?’ And that’s just one of them, just coping sometimes with pressure. So everybody seems to cope with continuous learning organization. So don’t worry, I’ve never had anyone complain you have too much to read, and that’s just because you have it’s just like real-time average development. You have to talk about other things too in terms of fair exchange.
So but, some of you apart from this, what we believe is just the pressures, we encourage people to have a balanced life in terms of outlook and everything. But, I just think sometimes you cannot differentiate yourself from the wider society as it were, some of the difficulties we’re having from operating in a wider environment, so we try to create a work environment where people are actually happy coming to work in that environment. But these days I have seen and heard a lot. In recent times the office next gen council is a group of new staff who have done 3 years ago in the firm, about 5 or 6 years. Every year, they have their own group and leadership team. I thought for some time, it was just going to be like a labor union thing but it is far from it. Over time, I have actually learnt a lot from them. Some of the things they came up with in terms of work was really transformational and helped us.
Aniekeme Umoh: At this time, I’d like to open it up to questions from the audience. If you have any questions you can ask here.
Moshood (Miva Student): Good afternoon everyone. I have two questions for you. The first one is, what is the effect of bond and treasury bills on the Nigerian economy? Dollar was 1300 recently, so at one point in time, we heard that the dollar fell down to 1,000. So. I want you to advise us, advise the country, and advise people listening to you that what we need to do more to bring it down. My third question is calculating accountants to lawyers. If you mention a lawyer, people know that lawyers are doing so many things. They can be into finance, estate, litigation and many other things. Is it only one thing that accountants are doing? If not, why are the things they are doing not popular and known to the public? At some point, I got to know that an accountant can be an insurer and can do many other consultancy services. The public doesn’t know this. What is happening? What do we need to do to make this public?
Uyi Akpata: I’m going to start with the 3rd question. What is your name and what do you do?
Moshood: My name is Moshood, studying B.Sc Accounting at Miva Open University.
Uyi Akpata: You asked me questions around the treasury and related activities which is outside the scope of this discussion, but because I’m an accountant, I’ll give you a response as I have been versatile, because, over time, you get to experience all of these things. That’s the point I’ll say about having a business out there. Well, I will bring you back to the fundamentals of accounting in addressing this question so I cannot just go off scope, but I can talk to you about.
So for the last bit, I don’t know where you’ve had that impression that accountants are limited. Because remember, it’s a professional accountant as it were, because I looked at your syllabus, and your syllabus is all-encompassing, it covers things around politics, financial accounting, there’s economic subjects and all of those stuff. So within our own organization, for example, we have 3 units. Tax. Some accountants start that way. There’s consulting. We think consulting, you have deals. Deals is different from transactions. Then you have corporate finance. Again these are all accountants. I am a traditional auditor on keeping and all. So if you break all those, they have even 10 different components. By the way, efforts, the stacks and regulatory services. So that is the first time I’m hearing this. The lawyers sometimes say that we are taking their jobs because we are providing bigger services.
Whereas, we just know regulatory services are on tax and the rest. So maybe we don’t market ourselves more often than what we’re talking about. We’re not better than lawyers, if not my wife will not allow me back in the house. But, I don’t think it’s one of those things for those who are just, for one or a better all around that course. And then from my experience, you don’t just have the capacity to do it all.
You must create your own. We talked about everything about your business and everything. So there are real estate lawyers that really understand the issues, not because they want to sell property and get the So I know the law firms you deal with are people who are in their area of expertise to provide this wide range of services. So, I mean, for a long time, as I said, you’ve also asked me things about bond treasury, the last time I did that was 25 years ago. My main area was oil and gas because I had a special myself in case of maybe any of you would decide to be working for. I needed to understand the industry, understand the business to be able to give useful advice. And therefore, going back to your that’s your first question. When you have the whole economy issues at the end of the day, what is the treasury bill? What are you getting? the 20% now? Bonds, the same, rates and the rest.
So do you have those investments in those bonds tomorrow? Again, if you have used that same naira and bought dollars as people say it will not crystallize those returns or can you put it into other means that can give you higher returns? So it’s just business decisions that drive all of those things for people to make calls. Traditionally, it was always good from the government end as a way of regulating the money in circulation, since we are making it more attractive, now rates have gone high in response to things, and there’s a lot of computing resources. Should you put your money in stock in the last 3 years or in the last year or so? That’s the highest number. They will tell you some people who have had 55% increases, so you can put your money in bond.
So that’s from an investor perspective, I’m using. From a government perspective, I think the major thing is for most people with fiscal monetary policies, and everybody working together. And I hear from those who have interacted coordinating… with all those acts coming together.
What’s been happening so far is a lot of speculation; the extent to which that is happening is not known, but some people will tell you if some of the main things that are in play come come to fruition, we may be looking at something that is between 600 and 750 in the near term, but as I said, things that come, don’t go and say, oh, we got a 39-year-old expert accountant and says it must be 650.
But when you look at broader issues like production, the cost of the corruption around oil production, we still need to determine things around production, oil production removed from an average of, like, about 1,000,000 barrels a day to, almost 1.5 now. When we start translating to foreign exchange and being able to defend the Naira, then that begins to help. We’ve talked a lot about the bodies that were used in subsidy over time, that has been that has been limited. But, again, because of the high price, that has not really come through as it were. A number of initiatives that government is putting in place, all the actors are working together, but I think efficiency of processes and even export, someone was telling me the other day, it takes, like, 3 times or 4 times in time, to do an export in Nigeria than it is in Ghana and other place. So there are a lot of things that we need to have that outlook and pocket survey is helping us here.
Then, more importantly, I came in this morning from Benin City, I was at the Edo Summit, which was the 7th for the Governor of Edo state, his last in office. And we were talking about some of the people who have come to Edo state to produce and taking advantage of assets. 70% of some of the things they use are still being imported. Most of the things that are being imported, 70% of them can be dealt with locally if you create the right environment.
So the real impact of all of these collectives or all of these, they come in the next 3 to 6 months, then become steady, adverse. The main thing is for the policies being put in place, which is policy being in place to give confidence to the investments. So I talk to most of my clients, talk to most people in the financial services sector, Most people are extremely confident that the right policies are being made. Yes. Granted, it’s not translated to everybody on the street yet. But hopefully, fingers crossed, I’m optimistic that it will happen. And, most of us, and every person who is in position to try and help those things happen should join hands.
Aniekeme Umoh: Thank you for that. We have some questions from the audience, that’s joining us online. So I’ll take 3 of them, but I’ll take them 1 at a time so you can keep up with them. The first one is, as a business owner or founder, what red flags should we look out for when investors want to invest in our business? For instance, if the investor intends to use the business to launder money via their business.
Uyi Akpata: Excellent question. Know KYC – Know Your Client. And it’s very, very important. I told somebody, say, for instance, we have this group in our experience centre where there are lots of different kinds of products for our clients. I say, okay so you want to develop maybe a particular software for a client, and someone offers you $1,000,000, and another person offers you $2,000,000, which one will you take?
I think but again, you need to understand who is buying. So somebody, the person who is paying $1,000,000, they want that because they want to have some impact in the agric sector, the value chain of how food can get for people faster, those people who could not take their products to market at the right time and rest of it. So the people who are paying $1,000,000 you’ll see that the impact is better than this. Then the person who just says, okay. I want to give it $2,000,000, my client doesn’t want to be known and the rest of it. The person may be wanting to commit fraud. So just know your client, and it’s your obligation to do it. So that’s an excellent question because it comes to values, which again, I can’t about now; just hopefully there will be an opportunity to mention it just before I close.
Aniekeme Umoh: Yeah. Mention it before I close. Okay. Alright. We’ll come back to that then. Yes. Okay. The next question is, what were the most difficult hurdles that you encountered during the course of your career, and how do you deal with difficult clients at PwC?
Uyi Akpata: Okay. Personal challenges were there, as I said, but again, opportunities and just enjoying what I did were there. I realized 3 or 2 trends of people leaving the firm, where some of my colleagues went to banks and made a lot of money. Many of them are very successful, and many of them have the same kind of values I have. Today, it cultivates quite a good way of giving back to society and the rest of it. But there are also many who did not go there for the right reasons. There’s just challenges making that personal call and you will face it. What do i do? What do I not do? Why did I stay here for a long time?
We are just staying back and asking ourselves, Why am I doing what I am doing? Of course, some of us will be under pressure, maybe moving houses, just got married, want to make more money, and then try to come back to your profession. But, it’s always good to make that call, at any time. So I faced those for a long time, when I thought “Am I really making the right decisions to be here and respond.” We’ve had a situation where if we go through our client’s acceptance process very well, the nature of difficulty that we will solve, will be less confrontational as it were. Well, there are some clients who were actually called and said, my stream has not done any of these, we’re supposed to get that out of that account. March, they’ve not gotten it. They call the team and find out that, oh, somebody has not given you information.
The project takes a lot of tacts and relationships. So I think that we should just trust one another. We’ll have those frank conversations. I mean, if you make a mistake too, and just having strong conversation and deciding on what you can deliver is very, very important. So that helps you to overcome those challenges. And as I said, I’ve had experiences. I remember once I mentioned it, and I hope I am giving examples that help. I don’t want to just chat without doing research.
My former boss then, on different occasions said I should meet 1 particular client that we would work for that person because, based on the advice they received from their bankers. They realized that they were making a lot of money but not organized. They were advised to go ahead and meet 1 of the 4 to support them. And in one way or the other, they arrived at PwC. So, my boss said Uyi you are a calm guy, go and meet this client. I spent 15, 20 minutes with these guys, then we can never work for this guy. No matter the money. 6 months later, something else came up and they asked us to help and I went there, I was even more convinced that we could not do things for this guy.
And there was a trend that was big numbers, and to me in terms of reputation, I mean, they have just been very difficult, so knowing clients and the environment is very, very important in terms of knowing people you can deal with. But ultimately, calm disposition, remember my first thing, put yourself in the person’s shoes. And then back to that 1st experience. So that’s really helped me to be as calm as possible to address the specific situations when confronted with.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. Thank you for that. So, I’ll just take 1 more from the online audience. And then if there are more questions here, we can go to that. So, can you describe your process for handling an unexpected situation at work?
Uyi Akpata: Oh, okay. An experienced situation may be client or people-related. Yeah. I think you must be very good at listening. I know I shouldn’t say these, but okay. Let me see. From the years I was a partner, which as I said, maybe, I’m just over 32 years now. Yes. I can’t remember raising my voice in a professional environment more than 5 times in 32 years.
Just because you need to just be calm and listen. So be calm and listen to all parties. You know, back to your point. So our accountants actually have these mediation skills that give the right balance that some others might not even have because they want to say it as it is. So just being calm, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt, and getting their position.
And when they trust you and see you have a balanced outlook. So the most difficult situations I normally face, again, may not be client-related. It may be people. And I’m just passionate about making sure that anyone who walks out of my office, which is usually open doors, and that’s the same for most partners that we try to discuss your matter and agree together on how this issue attempts to deal with those matters.
Aniekeme Umoh: Okay. Do you have any other questions from this group? Yeah. Abdullah.
Abdullah (Miva Student): Okay. So my question is, what do you believe are the key factors driving innovation in an accounting organization like PwC?
Uyi Akpata: Okay. Am I allowed to say the desire to make money?
Aniekeme Umoh: Yes. You are allowed.
Uyi Akpata: It’s a very good question because right where COVID was in 2020. Mid-20 mid-2018, the head of our advisory came to invest in our experience centre. Oh, there’s the construction and everything going on. I know this is not gonna happen, so why do I want to put in money? I mean, And we did a lot of these investments. The COVID period was a great benefit we got. And it’s the reality just be ahead of the competition. The guest speaker at our student’s meeting gave an example of blockbuster video people. Yeah. And, when Netflix came, he said, they weren’t serious people.
Uyi Akpata: This was in 2008, By 2010 blockbuster was dead, and Netflix was now a $60,000,000,000 business. So just not want to be agile to change. So what’s driving it is just our response? The environment and needs for those changes, so why would I today say I must still go back to 1984 when I proudly went to buy my pilot, and invested my hard-earned money? 1st salary to buy a pilot case. You know? The ones that pilots use because I had to do my audit files. Yeah. Very proud when arranged. Everyone must know I am an accountant
Aniekeme Umoh: Okay.
Uyi Akpata: Guess what now? client information is now on my phone. So we have to make those changes. We need to be responsive to all of this. So it’s driving it based on the client’s needs and what our people need to go to. Okay. We said something. Why have I been in this organization? So we need to make it interesting for people to say, okay. We want to be doing exciting things In response to the challenges that people are facing.
So that’s the main driver for us. And that’s why we are so invested in our experience centre, since then, I’ve been combat. So we have a group of people. Those days, we have 15 years ago, you come to the office. On the 1st day, the people are dressed in ties because they are working in PwC
Uyi Akpata: Forget that. We’re we’re. We’re I I just see the guys. June? June. Yes. We’re gonna have to pass. Guess what? The other ones are now. So if I was here with you, that’d be about 10 years ago. I’ve seen my lifestyle. But again, In summary, responds to societal needs and also gives us people exciting career opportunities.
Aniekeme Umoh: I’d like to take something from you. A lot of innovations and businesses have been birthed from the need to accept change or to create one, but then the rate of successes are actually not that, much. So, personally, from you, how are you able to recognise these opportunities that can create success stories
Uyi Akpata: Okay. First and foremost is we, our business, we say, okay. Wonderful, complex problem, societal making societal impact, and solving important problems. So if we feel that it’s an important problem and we believe that we are the best people, you, then we make those investments.
So does everything work where it is? Because this is just one component of labour. Does everything work? it may not be but something that helps us by the way, is because we belong to a network. So I may not be able to talk. I’m not really helpful that because when I come back, I sit I make calls. Have you dealt with this situation before and within the PWC network 24 hours someone will say they’ve experienced it or you now say okay you go into joint business relationship with some people to just develop to co-develop some of those things so you mitigate your risk as it were.
But the key thing that I must drive is just basically is there a requirement? Is there a business case? There must be a business case. We do it for clients, so what can’t we do it for ourselves? Yes.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. Okay. I know you mentioned you wanted to come back to this topic of of values. So maybe that will even tie to this question of advice that you would give to a student who wants to prepare academically and professionally for a career in the accounting industry.
Uyi Akpata: Okay. The first, again as I said earlier, I need to reiterate you must enjoy what you do. And just try to make sense of it all. I mean, we were when I was in school those days, I used to when we tell you the ‘debit the receiver, credit the giver’, I was wondering what’s this. Those things were really complex as it were whereas it could have been more straightforward. But once you’re determined, a lot of determination and you want to enjoy what you are doing, it makes that much easier. I guess a bit.
And as one of the people that was very instrumental to my career, he was my teacher, my boss, and we now became partners. And he was in those days of my final year in university then not now. So I was in University of Lagos then and in final year, auditing was Mr. Tomi and he used to actually come to teach us. He was a Senior Manager in Coopers and he taught us auditing and that was one of the reasons I actually went to Coopers. The way he carried himself and then he provided this business outlook to everything. So he was bringing that practical dimension to all the things about auditing and the rest of it.
So as I said, most of you I don’t know how many of you that have those kind…the background in terms of what you’re doing is gonna make your experience better in this environment. So just put yourself in that position to enjoy coming to school. Yeah. Enjoy doing research. This environment better than what we had experienced in the past provides that kind of outlook
But, for me, ultimately, I don’t know if I am to sum it all up but again one of the things why have I stayed in Coopers or PWC all of this time is because of the values. That’s just been very, very instrumental. And then there are many values that are key to us. So for instance, teamwork, collaboration. And when we talk about teamwork you can’t do it all yourself.
Aniekeme Umoh: Okay.
Uyi Akpata: So back to you, you didn’t tell me your name. You said what you did but you didn’t mention your name. Yeah. Okay, Yinka. So as Yinka said then about the lawyers…you can’t do it all for you to be able to offer. Yes so you need to be able to collaborate. So when we go to clients, in terms of client solutions, you go as teams. So your friends would be better than you somewhere so you need to meet to collaborate. Respect is there.
I told you how I learned faster and harder than it currently is. Then putting yourself in each other’s shoes. As an accountant, Integrity so I will not go and offer or I can do something when I cannot. I mean so that’s why when I even said talked to you about bonds, forex, and so earlier, I put a caveat because from PWC, I’m not an expert. I don’t know about it so I put in the necessary caveat and we discussed it at that level.
Last but not the least is caring. Just caring for one another…our people. So how many times do you call your people particularly what we experienced 2-3 years ago to say how are you doing? How’s your family? So that creates that bond. So you’re here, maybe most of the time. I don’t know how much you have in in-person, but create that bond with people you’re actually working virtually in teams and say okay, yeah, let’s just discuss. We are not discussing fundamentals of accounting today, but how we just doing. Yeah. So guess what? It will help you to do better, it’s going to actually help you come up with better grades as well knowing that you have people covered.
Aniekeme Umoh: Alright. Thank you so much. That was a great way to kinda wrap the questions from questions that we have but also in this theme of caring right, I understand that you are retiring next year. Congratulations on such an illustrious career. What are you most looking forward to after your retirement?
Uyi Akpata: You know, because I’ve been telling people when they say oh you’re retiring so I’d like to tell people that I’m leaving PWC next year but guess what? 9 years ago or so when I turned 50, someone gave me a book, From Success to Significance, so it was more about partner PwC, working with the big clients, and all but what do you want to really be known for? So I became a stocktaker, that was more like good personal success, and I thank God for that, but I needed to give feedback so I sat together with my wife, I set up what we called PETS Foundation. PETS Foundation means Promoting Ethics Through Sports. Because sports was what gave me most of those things outside investing. I play cricket. By the way, for the past 2 years, I’ve been President of the Nigeria Cricket Federation. I also play golf.
These 2 games…these 2 sports, give you things about some of those values – integrity. Golf, you can’t cheat in golf.
Aniekeme Umoh: Yeah.
Uyi Akpata: That’s why we tell most business people to go and play golf because if you want to know your character, whether you’re hot-tempered, whether you’re a cheat, that’ll do a lot of things. So those things taught me early in my life when I was playing cricket, of course, teamwork. You can be the best player if the other ten players are not in tune so there’s teamwork. So I went to do all of those things, because as I said, what can you leave significant? So I went to set up PETS and the foundation I mean, 10% of the income from that day, went to this foundation.
And we’ve given over 100 scholarships to secondary schools from, I mean, those people who play sports. And, the exciting thing is that where we were doing it in Edo state, most of them, we have at least 8 of those people that have been through scholarship from their JSS 1; eight of them have turned out to be National cricket team players
Aniekeme Umoh: Wow.
Uyi Akpata: And some of them are also being sponsored in university. By the way, I have told them about it, this was just before we started. This is not a marketing session.
Aniekeme Umoh: You can do it, you can market.
Uyi Akpata: But so there are other opportunities for the people who can play sports. Yeah. For instance, the national team is on the way for the World Cup qualifying. I’m in there now.
Aniekeme Umoh: Yes.
Uyi Akpata: So there is flexibility for institutions such as ours to give them those opportunities. So that was very important because at the end of the day, we went there, we went to IDP camp in Benin where we have about 3,000 students and now some of those 1 or 2 of these people are playing for the state team. So now, the Nigerian Cricket Federation is reaching out to 250,000 new kids every year.
Aniekeme Umoh: Wow.
Uyi Akpata: Last year, we won a global award in…for because we introduced 20,000 girls in Zamfara state Cricket. So some of those things, it’s actually more exciting than saying I closed a $1 million deal with a client. So I’m going to do more of this, the answer to your quest question. And guess what? Okay. I’m actually having a talk with the VC so maybe I’ll be doing more of this.
Aniekeme Umoh: We would love to have lots and you know I mean, this has been a fantastic time. I know that I have learned a lot, I suspend the folks here, the folks online have also learned so much.
We are very appreciative of your time here with us this afternoon. Thank you so much.
Uyi Akpata: Well, thank you so very much. My pleasure and God will bless everyone