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Louw Barnardt's winning ways

Louw Barnardt's winning ways

BY SHARON SOROUR-MORRIS
9 October 2019
MD of Outsourced CFO - Louw Barnardt

As one of South Africa’s top emerging entrepreneurs, Louw Barnardt and his Cape Town company, Outsourced CFO, is changing the way small companies do business. We spoke to him about the tech revolution that’s shaking the accounting world and why he’s way ahead of the pack.

If ever a Chartered Accountant defied the dull bean-counter stereotype, it’s Louw Barnardt. The 2018 Sanlam/Business Partners Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year is a passionate go-getter with an entrepreneurial bent second to none. The co-founder and MD of Outsourced CFO (OCFO), a multi-award-winning financial management company that offers SMEs cutting edge CFO and cloud accounting services, has a can-do mentality

Louw, who was the guest speaker at the CCID Business Breakfast in September at which the findings of The State of Cape Town Central City Report 2018 – A year in review (SCCR) were presented to the Cape Town business and property development community, believes new technology is changing the way business is being done, ensuring better productivity and streamlined efficiency.

What is unique about the company’s offering? Louw explains: “Our clients are entrepreneurs in either the start-up or scale-up phase of their business and don’t need or cannot afford a fulltime chief financial officer or financial manager. They need someone to streamline the financials, drive financial strategy, manage cash flow and all the other complexities of finance.

“We bring in cloud accounting, automating and digitising the financial processes, completely doing away with capturing data and bank statements manually. In the last five to 10 years cloud accounting has become huge, and there are different types of cloud accounting software technology available, that can draw information from a bank directly and pull it into a digitised format.”

GAP IN THE MARKET

Louw says he and his co-founders realised there was a gap in the market for an accounting service for entrepreneurs who didn’t have the necessary financial know-how. “We realised these start-up entrepreneurs didn’t need a fulltime CFO, but would thrive if they could have access to one, and to financial services and advice, on a regular basis,” he explains.

Armed with a great idea, the right qualifications and passion and energy in spades, Louw started Outsourced CFO in 2013 with his friend and fellow CA, Dana Pretorius.

It was not all plain-sailing, however. In a case of too much, too soon, OCFO experienced the trials and tribulations of many a start-up. However, the company’s own business journey has added to the experience Louw and his team can now offer their clients. “We started out with limited funding and had to learn how to build a business model seamlessly, balancing and juggling things such as the speed with which to sign up clients, how long that takes to translate into cash flow, employing new staff, taking on new work … all those things.”

Six years later, they are certainly on the right track: OCFO was named one of top two Emerging Companies in the Western Cape at the Premier’s Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards in 2018 and was included in the Fast Company Most Innovative Companies in South Africa line-up.

In the accounting and financial service industry, OCFO has captured the small business market and is now attracting clients from the rest of South Africa, Africa and the world. “We have worked with 300 companies over the past six years. They stay with us for two years, on average, and when the business grows to a point where they need to employ a fulltime CFO, we part ways."

For Louw it has been a rewarding ride. A high achiever, he is the youngest entrepreneur on the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants’ Top 35 Under 35 in South Africa, and is also one of the Fast Company Top 20 Under 20.

How much do these accolades actually mean? “It is really nice to get the recognition and the awards but for me personally, making an impact in people’s lives and enabling them to give back to society is far more rewarding.”


Outsourced CFO MD - Louw Barnardt presents at the CCID Business Breakfast

STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Keeping abreast of fast-moving technology is exciting, not daunting, to Louw. OCFO is on the button when it comes to improving its service offering, he explains. “We employ people who are tech-savvy, and interested in development. That is the culture of the organisation. When we recruit, we look at how fast someone can solve a new problem and utilise tech to do it. Being an innovator is a key criterion.”

The 30-strong company prides itself on cultivating a culture of continuous learning. As Louw puts it: “It is one of the habits at OCFO.”

The others, in no specific order, are: Family first (“we treat our people and our clients as family”); growth and success (“we strive to create an environment that promotes the growth and success of our clients, our own business and our professionals”); excellence (“everything that goes out of this office must be excellent”); and thought leadership (“we challenge how things have been done in the past”).

Louw acknowledges that these are ambitious habits. “Absolutely! We are an ambitious, young company: we continually test ourselves on how well we are doing.”

ON A PERSONAL NOTE

Louw was born and brought up in the Northern Cape city of Kimberley. The son of a psychologist (his mom) and a CA (his dad), he developed an entrepreneurial instinct at a young age. “From the time I could walk and talk, I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he laughs. “From the age of six, when I had to come up with something to sell at school in Grade 1, I learnt how to make something out of nothing.”

This notion, of making “something out of nothing” was further developed at family conversations around the dinner table. “My Dad was a CA at PWC, a big accounting firm, and he also ran its entrepreneurial division. Our dinner-time conversations were often about business and entrepreneurship, and I was fascinated by this idea of creating something out of nothing, and the concept that a business could grow to be bigger than its individual creator and in so doing make a huge impact.”

To this day, the idea of “making an impact” is what drives Louw and his team at OCFO. “For every entrepreneur whose success we can contribute to, we amplify the impact they can make in the world. So that, in nutshell, is our mission: to help people make an impact in society.”

It’s an admirable pursuit. But what about making money? Is that a pursuit, too? He laughs. “If our sole purpose was making money, our journey would have been easier! We believe we can make a greater contribution by helping entrepreneurs … that’s what makes us get up in the morning.”

By way of explanation, he says at the top of his “StrengthsFinder” list is “significance”. “You cannot possibly devote yourself to something that does not have a bigger meaning … that is what I try to bring to the business.”

IMAGES: Marike-Herselman & Anita van Zyl

Tags: Louw Barnard Outsourced CFO