If you know someone who is a visionary, a trailblazer, and a financial guru, now is the time to nominate them.
Adil is KMMRCE's Group Chief Financial Officer, bringing more than 20 years of senior financial experience to the company. He is responsible for overseeing KMMRCE's group financial operations.
Joining KMMRCE from Network International – the largest payment processor in the Middle East, where Adil served over 5 years, with the last position being Senior Vice President of Finance. While at Network International, he played a crucial part in several key strategic initiatives, including its IPO in April 2019 and, more recently, its expansion into KSA. He also led efforts that strengthened the business's commercial analysis and control framework.
Adil has spent over a decade with private equity-backed Fintech (payments) businesses, helping them to develop and deliver their strategies, enhance profitability and drive growth organically and inorganically, including many M&A activities and two IPOs.
He has also held many other senior positions across the Middle East and Europe, including Finance Director - Middle East, Head of Planning (Strategy / Commercial Finance), and Group Head of Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A), to name a few.
I was born in the UK and spent most of my life there. I graduated from the University of London, Queen Mary, with a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics with Computer Science, bringing together my interests in maths/finance and technology.
After that, I worked for the government as a VAT assurance officer for around 10 months while I was waiting to achieve my placement with a professional services firm to commence my chartered accountancy qualification with the ICAEW. I moved on to work for Kingston Smith (now Moore Kingston Smith), at the time a top 20 firm in the UK, and spent nearly 4 years there, after which I decided to go to a Big 4 firm.
The role of CFO is becoming increasingly strategic and business-focused, requiring a new set of skills and a different approach to decision-making.
I spent one and a half years with Ernst & Young in the Strategic Growth Markets division, working and leading audits of clients from varied industry sectors and sizes, including startups and FTSE 250 organizations.
After that, I got the opportunity to work at First Data, which was my first entry into the FinTech payment space. At the time, I was unaware of the FinTech space and fell into it by chance. First Data was a massive organization with greater than 20,000 employees across the world. When I joined the organization, it was under private equity ownership, previously listed in the US. I joined as a financial accountant but quickly progressed. I got promoted during my probation period to finance manager and then senior finance manager to lead the UK, Ireland, and Western Europe (UKIWE).
A few years later, an opportunity came knocking at my door to join WorldPay as the Head of Consolidation. While undertaking my due diligence, I quickly became invested in their equity story and the opportunity to make a difference and drive toward a potential IPO, so I took the leap and spent five and a half years there.
I progressed through various roles at WorldPay, from Head of Consolidation to Group Head of FP&A to Head of Planning for the largest division, WorldPay UK. My journey saw me moving away from a group role into more of a commercial focus; supporting the strategy, and working on the IPO, which was one of the largest IPOs of all time; straight into the FTSE 100.
Five and a half years later, I joined Network International as Vice President of Finance of Acquiring, which quickly progressed into Finance Director for the Middle East and eventually into Senior Vice President of Finance. During my time there, my roles focused across both business lines, Merchant and Issuer Solutions, and entailed being a trusted business advisor to senior executives through the provision of enhanced commercial analysis, insights, and recommendations, helping to drive the financial and business strategy and driving FP&A. I also played a crucial part in several key strategic initiatives, including the IPO of Network International in April 2019 and, more recently, its expansion into KSA.
An opportunity at KMMRCE came along: a portfolio of companies and investments that offers headless, agnostic, SaaS and PaaS technology & global FinTech services. This was the perfect next move as it gave me the opportunity to take the number one position in finance, gain experience in a true startup environment and obtain greater exposure to investors and fundraising. Hence, in August 2022 I took on the challenge and joined KMMRCE as Group CFO.
Some of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career would be balancing short-term and long-term goals, ensuring compliance with regulation and ethical standards, and adapting to the constantly changing market conditions. This was exemplified during COVID-19, which required a lot of detailed analysis, commercial insights, and continued scenario planning due to the unpredictable market dynamics.
In the Middle East, personal relationships are highly valued in business, which can be a key factor in building trust and establishing business connections. This is known as “wasta," the Arabic word for connections.
In general, the business environment in the UK and Europe tends to be more heavily regulated than in the Middle East. This can include areas such as labor laws, taxes, and health and safety regulations. Additionally, the UK and many European countries have a strong tradition of labor unions, which can also affect how businesses operate.
The Middle East, on the other hand, is known for its relatively less-restrictive business environment. This can make it easier for companies to set up and operate in the region, but it can also make it more challenging for employees to assert their rights. In many Middle Eastern countries, labor laws and regulations are not as developed or strictly enforced as they are in the UK and Europe.
One major difference that I have noticed is the cultural differences. In the Middle East, personal relationships are highly valued in business, which can be a key factor in building trust and establishing business connections. This is known as “wasta," the Arabic word for connections. On the other hand, in the UK and Europe, decisions tend to be more formalized and based on contracts and legal agreements rather than personal relationships.
There are a number of qualities that are often considered to be important for a CFO to be successful in their role. Some of the most important ones include:
Of course, every company and every situation is unique, so the specific qualities that a CFO needs to be successful will depend on the company and its circumstances. But in my view, a CFO who possesses a combination of these qualities is likely to be successful in their role.
Over time it's been about putting the proper controls in place, delivering enhanced reporting, which allowed the business to make easier decisions and moving the business forward by helping drive the strategy, which included delivering the IPO and supporting through various other M&A activities, which included the DPO transaction.
Looking at my journey in a little more detail, during my early years at Network International, I helped apply the control framework, set up the right reporting mentality, improve the reporting to drive more insightful analysis, and shape the FP&A function in the business. I also helped in delivering data insights, thus allowing the business lines to make the necessary commercial decisions and drive for success.
Driving the right balance across all facets of finance is tough with a small team, but you strike the right balance to deliver what’s required.
This inevitably led to introducing profitability analysis for the business, which allowed us to look at it across various segments of the company, including business lines, customer groups, industry sectors, and at an individual customer level. This helped the business make critical decisions and, in turn, improve profitability.
I also worked on and supported quite heavily through the IPO, including building out the five-year business model, working on the long-form reports, supporting the prospectus, and various other streams that come as part of an IPO.
Throughout my tenure, I was involved in driving the strategic direction of the business in conjunction with senior stakeholders, including identifying key strategies and outlining the financial strategy to support. Some key strategic initiatives included the drive to focus on SME customers to increase profitability and the renewal of significant contracts (including for Emirates NBD) with a contract value in excess of USD 300 million.
Being part of a robust financial infrastructure business in the Middle East has shaped my experience in several ways:
As the head of finance of an acquirer, making decisions that can significantly impact the bottom line is a crucial part of the role. These decisions include pricing strategies, mergers and acquisitions, and other financial transactions. The CFO must be able to balance the potential risks and rewards of these decisions and choose the course of action that is in the company's best interest.
When making decisions at a large scale, a CFO typically follows a structured process to ensure that all relevant information is taken into account and that the decision is made in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. This process can include the following steps:
Of course, the specific details of the decision-making process will vary depending on the situation and the nature of the problem or opportunity. But in general, this structured approach can help CFOs make large-scale decisions that are well-informed, thoughtfully considered, and aligned with the company's overall goals.
The experience gained throughout my career has always helped to shape my approach in new roles and businesses. This remains the case with KMMRCE also.
I have been able to put to good use the experience gained over my career, including delivering a best-in-class financial control framework, helping to drive the growth of the business, and being able to provide the requisite insights and challenges to ensure success.
Having progressed from more established businesses to a startup, I have had to adapt my approach to deal with the challenges that go with the territory. My focus is now heavily weighted on improving and maximizing cash flow, identifying opportunities to drive revenues, and ensuring that the business's funds are deployed in the most effective manner to deliver the greatest ROI (return on investment). In addition, I am also focused on ways to deliver enhanced business value and subsequently deliver fundraises. While I have been critical in record-breaking IPOs and large M&A activity, I have not had much direct exposure to fundraising, and this is an area to which I am adapting very quickly.
The CFO must be able to make strategic decisions that will help the company to achieve its goals in the long term while also keeping a close eye on the financial health of the company in the short term.
Aside from the above, it's about working with much smaller teams. In an early-stage startup, as you can imagine, you don't have the privilege of a full finance team; hence, it is about making effective use of the available resources and getting stuck in yourself. Driving the right balance across all facets of finance is tough with a small team, but you strike the right balance to deliver what’s required.
Yes, I have been through a digital transformation phase which has included the implementation of new systems (ERP, Data Analysis Tools, etc), the introduction of new technologies such as the use of bots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, and finally adopting cloud-based systems and processes.
This digital transformation leads to changes in processes and workflows, requiring a change management process to ensure a smooth transition.
A change management process for the digital transformation included:
Change management processes can vary depending on the specific organization and the extent of the changes being made, but the key is to ensure a smooth transition and minimize disruption to operations.
As a CFO of a startup, balancing the need for profitability and growth can be challenging. It's important to remember that startups typically require significant investment in order to grow and scale and that profitability may not be achievable in the short term. However, it's also important to have a plan in place for achieving profitability in the future, as investors will want to see that the company has a clear path to generating revenue and earning a return on their investment.
One way to navigate this balance is to focus on achieving product-market fit and achieving a level of revenue that is sufficient to cover the costs of operations. Once this is achieved, the company can start to consider strategies for scaling the business. This might include expanding the product line, increasing marketing efforts, or investing in new technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Another approach is to set clear milestones and goals the company aims to achieve in the short and long term. This can help the company to focus on the areas that are most critical to achieving profitability and growth while also providing a framework for making strategic decisions. For example, the CFO may focus on building a strong and efficient financial model, keeping track of important financial metrics, creating a forecast and budget, and regularly assessing whether performance is on track.
It's also important to manage expenses and allocate resources efficiently. CFOs should be familiar with the company's burn rate, which is the rate at which a company is losing money, and make sure that the company is not spending more than it is taking in. This could include reducing or eliminating non-critical expenses, negotiating better deals with vendors, and finding ways to increase revenue without significantly increasing costs.
Ultimately, navigating profitability versus growth requires balancing short-term and long-term thinking. The CFO must be able to make strategic decisions that will help the company to achieve its goals in the long term while also keeping a close eye on the financial health of the company in the short term.
Traditionally, the role of a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) has been focused on managing the financial aspects of a company, such as budgeting, accounting, and financial reporting. However, in recent years, the role of the CFO has been evolving to include a greater focus on strategy and business management.
In recent years and particularly in 2022, there has been a significant increase in investment in the startup and technology ecosystem in the Middle East region. This trend is expected to continue as the region continues to present opportunities for growth and development in these sectors.
One of the main reasons for this shift is the increased complexity of the business environment. Companies are now operating in a global economy and are facing more competition than ever before. To succeed, they need to be able to make informed strategic decisions, and the CFO is in a unique position to provide the financial insights and analysis that can inform those decisions.
In this new role, CFOs are expected to be more strategic in nature, with a deep understanding of the business, the market, and the competitive landscape. They work closely with the CEO and other members of the leadership team to set the company's overall direction and to identify areas for growth and improvement. They also help to shape the company's business model and to make key decisions about investments, acquisitions, and partnerships.
In addition to their traditional responsibilities, such as budgeting and financial reporting, CFOs are also taking on additional responsibilities, such as:
To be successful in this new role, CFOs need to have a combination of financial expertise, business acumen, and strategic thinking. They also need to be effective communicators and leaders, able to influence and collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders across the organization.
Overall, the role of CFO is becoming increasingly strategic and business-focused, requiring a new set of skills and a different approach to decision-making. In this new role, CFOs can play a critical role in helping their companies to achieve sustainable growth and success in the long term.
In recent years and particularly in 2022, there has been a significant increase in investment in the startup and technology ecosystem in the Middle East region. This trend is expected to continue as the region continues to present opportunities for growth and development in these sectors. However, it's worth noting that the investment landscape can vary across different countries in the region and is also subject to various global economic and geopolitical factors. For example, UAE and KSA are at the forefront when it comes to available capital by virtue of their sizeable populations, relatively lower penetration of digital payments as compared to Europe, and also the speed of adoption of new technologies and payment methods.
In comparison to other parts of the world, the investment environment in the Middle East region is unique and has its own set of challenges and opportunities. Some of these include access to talent, regulatory environment, and infrastructure development.
Being able to effectively communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, including team members, senior stakeholders, and clients, is essential for success in a leadership role.
It's worth noting that the global economic environment continues to evolve and can impact investment patterns and trends in various regions, including the Middle East. Therefore, it's difficult to make a precise prediction for 2023. Still, it's expected that the investment activity in the region's startup and technology ecosystem will continue to grow, albeit possibly at a more modest pace compared to recent years.
2023 is going to be an interesting one. With a strong capital markets agenda in both KSA and UAE, and the drastic measures taken to facilitate offerings in the markets in terms of ease of doing business and performing exits (IPOs), this will create an environment that is very constructive for a further influx of capital. In addition, UAE and KSA are rife with a very constructive base of local investors who have deep pockets and are willing to participate in transactions.
The continued urge of investors to diversify away from other regions, including western Europe, China, and other emerging markets that are becoming less attractive, will also result in greater liquidity for the region.
In summary, I would expect more of the same in 2023 unless there is a radical change in the macroeconomic environment or energy prices and the sentiment turns. Otherwise, I expect interest from investors to remain and deliver an elevated level of activity in 2023
My advice would be as follows:
While doing the above would help with the transition into leadership roles, it is also important to develop your own vision, keeping in mind your role and business strategy and be able to impart that on the team so they share and are invested in the same.
NOMINATE A PRO
If you know someone who is a visionary, a trailblazer, and a financial guru, now is the time to nominate them for the esteemed "The Strategic MENA CFO".
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