A new vision for Praxity
On 31 December 2021, Samantha Louis officially takes over from Graeme Gordon as Praxity CEO. In this Q&A, Samantha explains her background in finance, what attracted her to the role, and her plans to take the Alliance forward.
What has been your background in financial services / accountancy? My experience lies predominantly in leadership roles at professional bodies and non-profit organisations in Europe and Africa. I started my career in my native South Africa, where I worked for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) for 18 years, first as Divisional Director South Africa and then Regional Vice President Africa. In 2017, when CIMA merged with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, I moved to London to take up the role of Vice President Strategic Engagement at the newly formed Association of International Certified Professional Accounts. I then became Vice President International Advocacy for three years at the Association before joining Praxity in 2021.
In addition to these roles, I have been involved in extensive committee work in the accounting profession, including the International Federation of Accountants, Accountancy Europe, the Pan African Federation of Accountants, the International Integrated Reporting Council and the second King Committee on Corporate Governance. I was also deeply involved in opening access and transforming the South African accounting profession for young black students with very limited access prior to 1994.
What attracted you to Praxity and to the role of CEO? Its global reach and highly successful collaborative approach, which I believe is fundamental to helping accounting firms and their clients become more resilient in the coming years. The Alliance is respected globally and continues to grow in influence. The Praxity platform currently connects more than 60,000 accounting professionals around the world, each committed to collaborating closely with specialists in member firms to develop trusted partnerships that better serve international clients.
Praxity achieved record global revenues of US$7 billion in 2020, as well as notching up 14 years of consecutive, organic growth predominantly under Graeme Gordon’s stewardship. I am excited by the opportunity to take Praxity to the next phase of its development.
What is your vision for the organisation over the next 3 years? It’s about growing the Alliance, both organically, as the member firms themselves grow, as well as through engagement with new partner firms to develop our global proposition. It’s about enhancing the deep relationship and trust between member firms. Also, ensuring that firms’ clients know and understand the benefits of working with an alliance, namely fast access to unrivalled specialist business support and local expertise in virtually any jurisdiction. Ultimately, it’s about giving confidence to international companies.
What is your plan in getting to know member firms? I recently conducted a ‘meet and greet’ with around 80 Managing Partners and leaders at member firms to get to know them and discuss how the Alliance can enhance its value proposition. Unfortunately, I had to conduct my meetings virtually but I sincerely hope I will soon be able to meet more of my colleagues face to face.
Praxity also has an extensive programme of global, regional and local conferences and events, which provide a great opportunity for myself, my team, accounting professionals and, in many cases, client representatives, to meet, share ideas and discuss latest developments in accounting and global business. These events are currently being held virtually or in hybrid format using the latest technology to enhance engagement, such as ‘breakout rooms’, and this is proving popular with attendees.
Which regions will be a focus for your growth markets over the next 3 years and why? What makes Praxity special is the depth of expertise and global coverage of its member firms. The Alliance brings together member firms in more than 100 countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. As well as collaboration opportunities, our wide coverage enables member firms to benefit from more international referrals. In a recent example, one of our members estimates the value of these referrals is 20 times the cost of membership. My aim is to enhance global coverage while upholding our robust application process to ensure only those firms that meet the required criteria can join us. This maintains the quality standards and trust which our member firms, and their clients, value highly. Praxity’s three-year strategy to 2024 has been refreshed in line with its vision to be “an alliance of high-quality firms, rooted in collaboration and trust, recognised as the best-in-class alliance”.
The strategy has three main objectives:
- Reputation: To ensure member firms have an attractive and compelling proposition for potential international clients. This will include networking channels to support referrals and joint pitches.
- Reach: To service member firm’s international clients with excellence through global reach and great client service. The aim is to strengthen coverage, maintain quality assessment of member firms and develop tools and collaboration opportunities to enable firms to support clients to the highest standards.
- Responsiveness: To support member firms through timely networking, knowledge sharing and collaboration. This will include conferences and webinars, training and learning collaboration, new communities and enhanced communication.
At the heart of this strategy will be making sure that there is Praxity coverage in the markets where member firms [and their clients] need it, when they need it and with the skills that they need. A key initiative will be creating interconnectedness and collaboration at below senior partner level so that new partners or fast track rising stars can start to build their international network and participate in knowledge sharing activities earlier in their careers.
What are the leadership strengths you will bring to Praxity? I would say my vision and success mentality. Growing up and working in South Africa, I experienced first-hand how the country was able to make a peaceful and successful transition during the 1990s through dialogue and open and honest collaboration. Working together towards a common goal in a positive, open spirit is so important to success.
Apart from my work in financial and professional services, I am also an experienced strategist and communications specialist. In fact, I started my career in public relations and became President of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa. During this time, I was proud to have been named among the Top 10 most influential people in public relations in 2011 and I have been a guest speaker at various national and international conferences. I am a strong advocate for giving everyone the opportunity to succeed and one of my main interests is multi-cultural communication and diversity management, which I studied while building CIMA across Africa.
How do you plan to work with regulators to improve audit standards / frameworks? I have extensive experience in my former advocacy roles at the AICPA and CIMA. This includes engaging with regulators in the UK and the EU, liaising on the sustainability directive in the EU and on economic recovery plans in other countries. There were big changes in the profession during this time and that is positive in many respects, and I expect this trend to continue. I am looking to draw on my leadership skills and experience in professional bodies to build on relationships with regulators and other stakeholders across the world to further improve standards and frameworks.
What is your plan for industry stakeholder engagement to support clients to grow their businesses? I want to communicate the benefits of an alliance in general as well as the reasons why a client would want to work with a member firm that belongs to Praxity specifically. I think we are going to see major changes in how companies operate globally, particularly in terms of building financial resilience and supply chain efficiencies. As these changes occur it will increase the need to work with those firms that are part of an alliance because it provides access to specialist support and local expertise in different jurisdictions.
Praxity brings together high quality, peer-reviewed firms, each with the same shared values and commitment to providing quality services. Managing Partners at our member firms repeatedly tell us that this helps build trust, not just among the firms themselves, but with their clients that do cross-border business. In our latest series of case studies, an accounting professional at one of our member firms stressed that with an alliance, professionals are not ‘required’ to work together, they ‘choose’ to work together. This is where the value lies. At the end of the day, firms and clients alike want the best service they can get, and an alliance makes this possible.