95: Ronel Jooste

Financial Expert and Author

‘My dream is really to educate the people of South Africa about finances because I believe if you empower an individual financially, you uplift a nation.’

CIARAN RYAN: This is CFO Talks and today’s podcast is sponsored by Draftworx, which provides automated drafting and working paper financial software to more than 8000 accounting and auditing firms and corporations, and CFO Talks is a brand of the South African Institute of Business Accountants. I’m very happy today to welcome Ronel Jooste, who is a Chartered Accountant by profession, and she spent more than a decade in the corporate world as head of group financial reporting at the Momentum Metropolitan Group. There she was involved in the banking, investment and insurance side of the business. She completed a management development diploma at GIBS Business School, where she received the Top Achiever Award. Now, Ronel left the corporate world in 2015 to pursue her entrepreneurial aspirations, for which she has received multiple awards ever since. She’s an author, speaker, guesthouse owner, and a founder of a leadership development company. First of all, Ronel, welcome to CFO Talks.

RONEL JOOSTE: Thank you so much and thanks for inviting me. I’m really looking forward to it.

CIARAN RYAN: You are most welcome. That’s quite a list of achievements that I just rattled off there and I get a sense that your life story is only beginning. How do you think that story will look ten years from now?

RONEL JOOSTE: Yes, that is quite a question. I think that’s something that I often ask myself and I also think that my story pretty much evolves as I grow and develop. I must be honest, I have so many goals and aspirations I would still like to achieve. So it’s difficult to really pinpoint what exactly it will look like, but I definitely would like to continue to grow my personal brand, being a financial expert and doing some work in the financial education space. Then I definitely still have a lot of goals in terms of being a serial entrepreneur, there are really so many businesses that I would like to get involved in. But I would almost say to summarise it all, I would just love to really achieve my full potential and just know that at the end of the day, I have made a big impact and that I have used my qualifications, experience and expertise to really make an impact in South Africa and in changing people’s lives for the better.

CIARAN RYAN: One of the businesses you’ve got is a guesthouse, I imagine that was pretty severely affected during the lockdown. Is that true?

RONEL JOOSTE: Absolutely, yes, I think it was terribly impacted. We’ve really had a tremendous year in 2019, even in a January 2020 we’ve managed to double our revenue from January 2019. Already in February we started to see a bit of an impact coming through with some of our international guests cancelling their trips because they went into lockdown before us. But yes, from March we were still fully booked that weekend and thereafter it was just completely dead for months, there were just no guests whatsoever, no inquiries, nothing. It was difficult because we still had to pay the staff, we still had to pay all our expenses and, as you can imagine, to basically maintain a big premises without receiving an income is quite a big task. But yes, we are fortunate that we’ve been hopefully through the worst and that it will only start picking up from now onwards again.

CIARAN RYAN: You said you wanted to start a whole bunch of other businesses, what have you got in mind?

RONEL JOOSTE: I’m very passionate about wellness, overall wellness. My sister and myself have  started to have more of a holistic approach because she’s in the psychology and life coaching space, and then I’m also a qualified personal fitness trainer. So we are looking into venturing into a space where we offer holistic wellness services from physical to emotional, to financial wellness. Then also, like I said, in the fitness space I really enjoy that and I definitely would like to add more guesthouses to our portfolio over time. Eventually I would absolutely love to own a game lodge together with a wellness retreat.

‘I always had dreams and aspirations of becoming a businesswoman one day’

CIARAN RYAN: Interesting, okay, you left the corporate world, you were with Momentum, the Momentum Group, for many years and then you left that, and you said goodbye to the corporate world to venture off on your own. What was the motivation behind that?

RONEL JOOSTE: I think at that stage after the merger between Momentum and Metropolitan, we really worked excessive long hours, so it became at a point where I felt a bit burned out and that I almost had to make a decision to take better care of myself from a physical and emotional wellbeing point of view. So sometimes you need to make those choices to take care of your personal wellbeing and to really put yourself first. But apart from that, since I was a little girl, I always had dreams and aspirations of becoming a businesswoman one day and owning multiple businesses. So I’ve had the opportunity to venture into that space. I do believe that the younger you when you start your own businesses, the better, because the more time you have to really grow and develop that. But I think it was also within the corporate world I sometimes felt a little bit like I was within a box and I couldn’t really make the full impact that I wanted to make. It was always having that be more, do more kind of thing that I still had in mind. So I think today I can really do that because really there are no limits, you can really venture into anything that you set your mind to.

CIARAN RYAN: Okay, so you founded Ronel Jooste Dream Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation that aims to bring financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills to a wider audience. How’s that going and what do you do that differs from others in this space?

RONEL JOOSTE: Yes, I’m very passionate about financial education and my dream is really to educate the people of South Africa about finances because I believe if you empower an individual financially, you uplift a nation. I truly believe there’s a big need for financial education in South Africa and I believe that with my skills, experience, qualifications, I really have the skills and the knowledge to make a difference in that space, so that’s how it started off. Before lockdown I obviously did a lot of talks, workshops and so on. But now with lockdown I had to change my approach and then I started the Ronel Talks Money show, which is on my blog, on my website, as well as on YouTube. There I invite financial experts in certain fields and we just discuss and finance related topics in quite a lot of detail. The main aim with that is to educate the public out there to make them more aware and help them to make more informed and powerful decisions for themselves when it come to their finances.

CIARAN RYAN: For a lot of people who’ve been in business, there’s a high failure rate of businesses and people get bitten, they get a little bit shy and so they struggle to start up another business. What’s your advice to them, for people who’ve had some bad experience starting a business and it didn’t go well?

RONEL JOOSTE: I don’t think they should give up when they have a failure because there was probably some kind of reason why it failed. That is important that before you start out that you make sure that there is a need for what you want to bring to the table, and that there are also people who are willing to pay for it because sometimes people believe that I have a good product or service, but the market is not really ready for a it or they’re not willing to pay for it. So you definitely need to do a lot of research before venturing into any business and then you really need to upskill yourself because with starting a business, you literally need to know and be involved in everything. It’s no longer where you or a financially qualified person and now you work in a finance type of role. Now you all of a sudden need to be involved in sales, marketing, networking, strategic planning, thinking, human resource management, all of those things that you now need to manage. It’s a lot different when you basically do some kind of course about marketing and sales, and now you need to go and implement it in the real world. So definitely upskill yourself and it’s tough to start any business, I don’t think any business owner will lie to you and say it’s been easy. But it’s just to persevere and if you really have a passion and a dream, I do believe that you can achieve that.

‘I think during 2021 you will still see a big impact of the lockdown’

CIARAN RYAN: Okay, let’s talk about the role of the finance executive in these strange times. We’re in lockdown at the moment, how have you seen this role evolve over the years and is it a role that demands increasing accountability from finance executives and CFOs?

RONEL JOOSTE: I definitely believe it will evolve. I also think that during this lockdown period it brought other unique challenges to finance executives specifically, but to executives running a business overall because I think we are sometimes so focused on the business side or things, the profitability, achieving our sales targets and all of those things that we quite often forget about the people working for us and to really make sure that the people are okay. I think, especially during this lockdown period, we do not really realise how big the impact was financially, emotionally, physically on a lot of people. People could have had partners who lost their jobs during this time, there’s been home schooling, there have been so many challenges I believe that people are currently facing. So I think for the finance executive, they need to be aware of those challenges and they need to make more time to really just sit down and talk with the people who are working for them, and the teams, and just be more aware of the needs, the challenges that they are facing, and really trying to assist them on a more emotional level too. I think going forward, I think during 2021 you will still see a big impact of the lockdown period coming through. So I think it might even become tougher for certain households and families going forward. So I think that is definitely something that we need to pay a lot more attention to.

CIARAN RYAN: We’re talking to a lot of CFOs and this is, without doubt, one of the most stressful years in their lives. They’re putting a brave face on it but when you’re having to lay off staff, when you’re having to make sure that you’ve got sufficient cashflow at the end of the month to be able to survive and keep the business going, the stresses are just huge. You’ve touched on some of the things, some of the disciplines that you’re not going to learn in accounting school, that you’re not going to learn as a CA and that’s got to do with the human element and it’s got to do with how do you manage that stress, how do you manage a team. Now, you may be aware of that the South African Institute of Business Accountants has a designation called CFO (SA), which actually incorporates a lot of these non-accounting kind of disciplines. There’s been some research coming out of Canada and there’s also research in Europe talking about these other things that are needed in the accountant’s toolkit in order to properly manage the business, and a lot of them have got to do with the softer side of things. What, what do you think about that?

RONEL JOOSTE: I definitely think that is something that we need to offer. I think by nature, people sometimes being in the financial profession, it’s that whole left brain, right brain theory, and that sometimes we are not that well connected with those softer skills. I think that that is something that’s going to become so critical. I also think for the next generations coming through, who are entering the employment market, is to really assist those people and to change how we used to do things. But I also think there’s a much bigger need for strong leaders to come through and no longer only to manage people but to really inspire people and to help people to really achieve their full potential but within all the challenges that they are facing, and just give them that support that they probably need.

CIARAN RYAN: Let’s talk about the accounting profession. Is it in a crisis as a result of all these accounting scandals that we read about and if so, what can we do about it?

RONEL JOOSTE: I would not really say it is in a crisis, but I do believe it’s been really badly affected. I think where previously I think there was a lot of trust in the profession and a lot of people definitely have lost trust in the profession. I think that that is really sad because people coming through the ranks put a lot of time and effort into qualifying and there’s a lot of really good financial professionals out there. So it definitely, I think it put the profession in discredit. But I’ve now recently attended SAICA’s Top 35 Under 35 awards evening and that was so, so amazing. If you just listen to the stories of those young CAs in terms of what they have achieved in terms of the impact that they are making, just their general mindset, their positivity, I definitely felt that there is a lot of hope for the profession. I think if we can really focus on developing that kind of young talent coming through and really help them to make the most of this profession. But I also think that the governing bodies really need to put their foot down and really make sure that they do deal with these type of scandals and incidents effectively so that we can basically win back some of the credit that we have lost.

‘In South Africa there is a big need for people to really jump in and make a difference’

CIARAN RYAN: I see you’ve got some pretty impressive accolades just this year, among them being nominated Social Entrepreneur of the Year. So it’s clear that part of your philosophy is giving back. What’s your advice to other finance executives in this regard?

RONEL JOOSTE: I definitely think that in South Africa there is a big need for people to really jump in and make a difference. We all can complain about everything that’s going wrong and everything that we dislike, and point fingers at so many different people and organisations and everything else. But at the end of the day, you need to be the change, and I think with us finance professionals, we definitely have the knowledge and the expertise to make a difference out there. Even if people don’t enjoy getting involved themselves or they don’t really have an idea or whatever that they can do, they can still provide funding, they can support initiatives, they can support people who are doing great work in that regard. I would definitely like to encourage finance executives, finance professionals, to step out there, to get out of their comfort zone and really see where do they see something where they believe that they can make a difference or support an initiative because I think that is what South Africa needs. We need to all step up and go and make that difference just change what we are currently seeing in South Africa.

CIARAN RYAN: Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up and how you ended up today. What was your career path and what was your inspiration along the way?

RONEL JOOSTE: I grew up in Krugersdorp on the West Rand in Gauteng, then I attended university when it was still Rand Afrikaans University, now known as the University of Johannesburg. I completed my articles at PricewaterhouseCoopers and then I joined the Momentum Group. So I’d been there ten-and-a-half years before I started by own business at the end of 2015. So now I have the Financially Fit Group and we focus on financial consulting and training, also offering employee wellness programmes. So I have developed various online courses on both business finances, as well as personal finances. I’m also speaking at quite a lot of events on finance, on business and just sharing my personal journey. Then, like I said, I also own PhysEQFiT Guesthouse in Centurion, together with my sister, so we are 100% female-owned and managed, the guesthouse. That is really something completely different, venturing into the hospitality industry but I really love and enjoy that. I think that is basically what I am up to. Like I said, I enjoy financial education, I get involved in a lot of initiatives to really educate people about finances, to have a better understanding of investments and what kind of journey they can follow to achieve financial freedom.

CIARAN RYAN: What do you do when you’re not working, how do you relax?

RONEL JOOSTE: Like I mentioned, I am a fitness fanatic, so I run almost every morning of the week. I really, really love running and I find that while running I come up with a lot of my ideas and plans and dreams almost, while I’m busy running. That also gives me energy to get into all my businesses during the day. Then I also go to gym a lot. I love playing golf and then definitely spending some time with my partner and my family. I also enjoy going to restaurants, going to the spa, going to the theatre. So I do make sure that I spend enough time just doin the things that I love as well.

CIARAN RYAN: Okay and here’s a final question for you, what about the books that you’re reading and they don’t have to be technical books but just fun books, maybe.

RONEL JOOSTE: Yes, I think they need to jump in, I know they always say that accountants are not good salespeople or good marketers but I think you do develop those skills. So I would say that the book that I have published myself, it’s called Financially Fit and Wealthy, I published it in 2019, and it has since received an AfriCAN Author Award in the financial literacy category. The book is all about personal finances, the journey literally from A to Z. I think what makes the book unique is that I have combined my two passions, being fitness and finances, so I have basically linked all the financial concepts that I’m talking about in the book with fitness concepts as well. So it’s kind of a two in one book, where you would not only go on a journey to improve your financial fitness, but also your physical fitness and health as well. So I definitely would recommend that people read my book and that they educate themselves more about finances so that they can make more powerful decisions. But then apart from that, I have to admit that because of what I do, and I do a lot of research on finance topics. So I do a lot of reading but more articles, watching videos, attending webinars, those kinds of things to really educate myself about finances. But then I would also read fitness magazines, so that is just to relax a bit and get a different perspective on life. Those are the things that I would recommend.

CIARAN RYAN: Where can we find your book?

RONEL JOOSTE: You can find it on my website www.roneljooste.com

CIARAN RYAN: what a great story, the fact that you’ve written a book, you’re trying to help people, it’s fantastic. I want to thank you for coming on and I wish you a great Christmas and a very, very prosperous new year for 2021.

RONEL JOOSTE: Thank you so much for having me. I just want to say to everybody, I know 2020 was probably one of the toughest years that we will hopefully experience in our lifetimes, but yes, I just want to wish everybody well. I’m sure 2021 can only be amazing compared to this year and thanks a lot again for having me on the show.

CIARAN RYAN: You’re most welcome Ronel and thanks very much for coming on and we’ll check in again with you.

RONEL JOOSTE: Thanks so much.

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