Life as a CA in Nigeria
Bolanle Adekoya CA, one of the first female partners at PwC Nigeria, opens up to CA magazine about tackling adversity in the finance industry and the opportunities that abound in Lagos, Nigeria.
The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride for Nigeria. The west African country has the biggest economy in the continent, having overtaken South Africa in 2020, and yet it has battled economic uncertainty and, in the north, security struggles. In May, Nigeria swore in a new president, and fresh initiatives and investments are giving a boost to various industries, from natural resources to financial services.
It is also making strides in transforming its workplaces. This year, PwC Nigeria appointed its 13th female partner – a major step forward for the firm which in 2013 had an all-male leadership team. Now, women comprise 35% of the partner count.
Bolanle Adekoya CA was among the first women to become a partner there. Raised in the UK, she moved to Lagos in 2010 seeking a two-year “adventure”. Thirteen years later, she’s settled and thriving. The city’s nickname is “Eko atete” (the land that teaches wisdom) – and it might be said Adekoya is doing just that in her recently assumed role as PwC Africa’s Inclusion and Diversity Leader.
As Nigeria and Adekoya enter a new chapter, she looks back on her journey, from settling into life and work in Lagos, to overcoming adversity and educating others on the importance of inclusion.
I’ve always been good with numbers. My dad was a banker and my mum suggested I explore finance, but I couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted to do, so I studied business, economics and Spanish at university to give myself options. In my third year, PwC came in and I decided to apply. After my first interview, they made me redo the test. At first, I thought it was very odd and questioned: is it because of my race? But when they called me for a second interview, my boss told me it was because my scores were very unusual – they were too high!
I joined PwC’s audit practice and sat my chartered accountancy exams with ICAS. I used to be the kind of person who gets bored easily, so I did audit for a while, then tried different kinds of accounting and capital market work. After five years, I went to EY in 2005 because they offered me better money and a manager position, but I left after two and a half years. It was extremely intense. I did quite well and they put me on the accelerated leadership programme. My team was absolutely amazing, but outside of the team there were a lot of issues in terms of the culture around gender, race and equality.
I took some time out to travel, then took a job with SS&C GlobeOp, who promoted me to Associate Director. I was working well there when an opportunity arose with PwC Nigeria after I bumped into one of the firm’s partners, who was setting up a unit to help Nigeria with the adoption of IFRS. It was May 2010 and my husband and I were already thinking about testing the waters in Nigeria – I am of Nigerian heritage and he is British Nigerian as well – so I said, “OK, let’s go on an adventure.”
My mum thought I was crazy. She’d say things like, “You can’t just pop to Tesco there”. At the beginning, it was a bit odd settling in as it was out of my comfort zone, but it felt like God had a plan because we met people who helped us out with accommodation and took us around. This was my first time living in Nigeria as an adult [Adekoya lived there for several years as a child].
I came back to PwC to set up the units in Nigeria with the support of the partners. We hired a few people and grew the business, and in 2014 I made Partner, as one of the first women to do so in Nigeria – they hadn’t had any female partners before. In 2018, I joined the firm’s country management team as the People Partner. In January this year, I became the Inclusion and Diversity Leader for PwC Africa.
PwC has some 10,000 people in Africa and each jurisdiction has its own issues, from race and ethnicity to sexuality, gender balance, disability acceptability and neuro-diversity. My job can be complex at times. In South Africa, for example, racial tensions are not uncommon and there are strict regulations to adhere to, but they are more accepting of LGBTQ initiatives, while in most of east and west Africa, homosexuality is illegal. My role is about making sure everyone is able to work in a bias-free environment.
I’ve overcome my own challenges. Being a female leader in Nigeria was tough at the beginning. I’ve had men tell me stuff like, “Why are you here? Don’t you have a baby to look after?” When I first moved, I had a very strong English accent. I remember a client effectively telling me to go back to where I came from. It was unacceptable and he was fired in the end. The situation is better now, but at that time, there were some real challenges. I learnt not to let it get to me.
Inclusion is about making positive influences on society. Communication and education are very important. I help people speak up when they need to, while remembering that there are different points of view and effectively framing the conversation. I’ve learnt, for example, not to be combative as that’s not beneficial for anybody. I spend time trying to educate people, which some can find quite irritating, but it works. I think most people I work with also appreciate the fact that I am not rude or forceful about it.
Life in Lagos
Having moved to Nigeria from the UK, I find one of the most striking differences is getting around. The Lagos traffic can change radically, and the infrastructure can be challenging – I once got stuck because it started raining torrentially and the roads closed. You have to be flexible.
The other thing I found is that the social life here is brilliant. In the UK, social events were mainly around the immediate family, but in Lagos there is always something going on. And the variety of different food available is really good – you just need to know where to go to find it. Another thing is that people here are very resourceful – if you think it, somebody can make it. People here are talented and they’re resilient.
The security is not as bad as you’d think. Unfortunately, the way the media reports things is very negative, but it’s not reality. If you live here, you know how to avoid getting caught in certain situations. There are, of course, issues, but you just have to be clever about how you navigate them.
In the workplace, everyone is very professional, as they are in the UK, but you do find yourself working that bit harder because the client’s spend capacity is not the same, sometimes because of currency issues. So you may have to put in more effort to make the same amount of money. However, the tax rates are more favourable, and the standard cost of living is better.
Lagos can be an expensive place to live if you don’t know what you’re doing, but if you do your research properly, and keep your ear to the ground, it’s OK. And if you learn how to save and invest, you can make yourself some real wealth as well.
Access all areas
Working with a global firm such as PwC, you have access to pretty much anything you need. Nigeria has embraced the whole hybrid-working environment, and the culture in workplaces is transforming for the better. One thing you have to remind people about, however, is boundaries because the clients here are a lot more demanding, depending on the industry. Some banking clients, for example, will think nothing of calling you at the weekend, so you have to be flexible – but also to let them know when you need time to yourself. Likewise, you must empower your staff to say no.
There are loads of opportunities for CAs in Nigeria, including at middle-management and senior levels. A lot of people left because of the previous government, so there are a lot of gaps. And there’s a lot of investment coming in across various sectors.
Several regulations and new industry norms are coming up; for example, Nigeria has the new Petroleum Industry Act, introduced in 2021, so there are opportunities in oil and gas. The financial services sector is growing because of infrastructure development investment, and the capital market is also going through reform. And then there’s the ESG [environmental, social and governance] and sustainability initiatives.
My advice is to be open-minded and flexible. And know that when you’re here, you’re going to make a difference.
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