Spotlight: Timothy Mukopi, Oxfam GB

Published: Sep 2018

Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 organisations working across more than 90 countries. Focused on a number of goals such as saving lives, safeguarding global food supplies and championing equal rights for women, Oxfam raises funds through a mixture of institutional fundraising, public fundraising, interest and investment, trading and other sources. The organisation’s activities range from short-term emergency relief to long-term programme work.

Portrait of Timothy Mukopi

Timothy Mukopi

Treasury Risk Reporting and Systems Officer, Oxfam GB

Like many other treasury professionals, Timothy Mukopi never set out to pursue a career in treasury – but today he says that entering the world of corporate treasury was the best career move he ever made.

Mukopi has certainly embraced every challenge he has encountered along the way. Over the last 14 years, Mukopi has enjoyed a variety of roles which have taken him from a Kenyan bank to the UK-based treasury of Oxfam GB. And since joining the organisation in a newly-created role last year, Mukopi has hit the ground running, taking a proactive approach to everything from cash flow forecasting to risk management.

The road to success

Born in Kenya, Mukopi grew up in a rural village where the basics of life were not always readily available. He later attended the University of Nairobi where he gained a Bachelor of Commerce Accounting Degree alongside private Certified Public Accountants examinations. After graduating, Mukopi joined NIC Bank in a graduate role in 2004.

“I joined the treasury operations and payments function, where I first learned treasury trade, dealing with the processing of front office deals, investments in treasury bonds and repos,” he recalls. “I also saw the introduction of real-time gross settlement in Kenya – before that, you had to do repos and treasury bills using physical documents.”

In less than 18 months, Mukopi was promoted to a supervisory role. He subsequently moved into the money service business, looking at international remittances from Europe and the Middle East into Kenya. “At the time, there were no solutions like mobile money services,” he explains. “The local instant money service that was available at the time was largely through the post office – the other options were either expensive or people would send money using informal means, and it would take days before it was received.”

Mukopi’s next move took him into the world of corporate treasury and the telecommunications sector, when he joined Airtel Kenya, and subsequently Airtel Africa, as Cash and Bank Manager in the company’s treasury function. “That is where I honed my cash flow forecasting skills, because we had to do granular forecasting of our inflows and outflows,” he says. “I was also in charge of paying suppliers, and forecasting was key to making sure we managed suppliers effectively, as well as essential to managing liquidity risk.”

In this role, Mukopi was also responsible for trade finance and managing the documentation aspects of documentary trade finance solutions such as bills of collections. Other responsibilities included setting up treasury operations for a shared service centre intended to cover 14 countries at the time, this involved shifting processes from other markets to the Head Office in Kenya. The company’s focus at the time was to set up a shared service centre to serve the African market.

After three years at Airtel, Mukopi joined Umeme Ltd, an electricity distribution company located in Uganda. Mukopi’s remit was to set up the treasury function, which included setting up processes and procedures as well as training staff, introducing dividend processing for shareholders and was involved in the arrangement and management of capex funding worth US$170m. Another major achievement involved implementing interest rate swaps in order to hedge loan interest, which included designing the accounting treatment in line with IFRS.

While these roles brought plenty of challenges, Mukopi also continued to pursue professional qualifications alongside his career, gaining an MBA in Finance from the University of Nairobi in 2013 and obtaining a CertITM (Certificate in International Treasury Management) and CertFMM (Certificate in Financial Maths and Modelling) from the ACT.

Moving to the UK

In 2016, Mukopi’s career took a different turn with a move to the UK. Following a stint at Inchcape Shipping Services as Corporate Treasury Supervisor, Mukopi joined Oxfam in his current role as Treasury Risk Reporting and Systems Officer. “This is actually a new role which was introduced in October 2017 when I joined,” he comments. “The background is that Oxfam previously had regional centres where some of the international treasury functions were located. That has now changed with most of these brought into the head office in the UK, which is why my role was created.”

“Don’t look back – just go ahead and get started. It’s a dynamic role with new things landing on a daily basis, and the need is there in the market. I may have got here by chance, but I’m glad I landed in treasury.”
In the first instance, Mukopi’s goal was to bring 27 countries onto a single platform, bringing together information about bank accounts and signatories and centralising cash reporting. “One of the things we have been trying to do is consolidate our accounts that are held in the same global/regional bank into a single login platform, so there’s no need to log into different accounts – you can log in once and view what the position is or authorise payments without having to log into different countries accounts with different login credentials,” he explains. “That has business continuity benefits, because for instance, if any disruption happens in a particular country you can still address the issues from the head office without necessarily needing to have a physical presence there.” Mukopi adds that this also improves liquidity management, with reports arriving on a timely basis from the relevant countries.

The quest for effective forecasting

These efficiencies have also been a key part of Mukopi’s efforts to create a cash flow forecast. “This is a challenge, because there are many uncertainties,” he says. “You may not know when donors will give funds, for example.” That said, Mukopi is a strong believer in the importance of a robust cash flow forecast. “Any organisation that operates without a forecast is risking a lot – it’s like flying blind, because you don’t know when you are going to be hit by cross currents. When you have a forecast, you can predict where the troughs are and mitigate positions in good time.”

One obstacle is that there is no standard template for a cash flow forecast. As Mukopi explains, it’s essential that the person in treasury who is responsible for cash management or liquidity management fully understands the “cash language” in that organisation. “If it’s a business entity that generates cash, you need to know what your cash generation model is,” he says. “If it’s an NGO you need to know your sources of cash and the timings so that you can model how cash moves around the organisation. If you don’t fully understand the pattern of this movement, any forecast you make will be missing key information.”

When it comes to creating an effective forecast, Mukopi advocates an 80/20 approach, with initial efforts focused on the biggest risks associated with cash and the possible impact on the overall cash position if specific cash streams fail to materialise. “Once you identify the biggest risks, it is easier to isolate them and use them as the building pillars of the model,” he explains. “Then the rest of the process involves looking at areas which bring less of an impact if they fail and improving the accuracy of those areas.”

That said, Mukopi notes that cash flow forecasting is a continuous improvement process, because companies will never get it right the first time – “you may start at 60%, move up to 70% – and then over time discover that you have reached 90% accuracy levels.”

Building connections

Aside from the challenges of cash flow forecasting, Mukopi says another area of focus is on building relationships within the organisation as well as external stakeholders. While people often focus on their own specific areas of responsibility, he argues that setting links between departments can go a long way towards working more effectively and ensuring that the organisation has a common goal. “Working alone can never be fruitful,” he says. “For example, when I worked in the electricity business, I had to work closely with the customer services team, which was in charge of looking at debtors, this in turn improved creditors management.”

Meanwhile, Mukopi has had plenty of other tasks to focus on in his current role. From managing FX risk and establishing innovative risk management tools to safe guarding donor funds to strengthening emergency response processes via effective liquidity management, Mukopi has achieved much in a short space of time. He hopes to become an MCT in the near future.

Of course, not everything is plain sailing. Like many treasury professionals, Mukopi is frustrated by inefficiencies within the KYC process – particularly when institutions repeatedly ask for the same documents. “The inflexibility can be unhelpful,” he says. “For example, you might give the bank a certified copy of a passport – and a year later they will come back and ask for the same passport to be certified again. This creates a lot of work which is often not commercially advantageous, especially for humanitarian agencies.”

But despite these challenges, Mukopi is enthusiastic about the benefits of pursuing a career in treasury. His advice for others looking to do the same? “Don’t look back – just go ahead and get started. It’s a dynamic role with new things landing on a daily basis, and the need is there in the market. I may have got here by chance, but I’m glad I landed in treasury.”

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