#CareerFocus With Juanita Cooper Senior Developer Of Accounting Systems

Juanita Cooper Accounting Systems Developer
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1. Tell us a bit about yourself?

At home, I am a proud mother to a wonderful boy who is the apple of my eye and truly my motivation. I enjoy the outdoors and find myself re-energising on a hike, river rafting, game drives or a walk through the botanical gardens. Exercising, yoga and running has also been a healthy outlet that I partake in. I have ADHD so when I feel like I’m stuck in a rut or need a new perspective, I enjoy going to quaint restaurants and experiencing good food and hearing the stories of these businesses’ success.

Additionally, I review these places on Google maps as a hobby. In my spare time, I enjoy remodelling houses as I am a visionary of possibilities, and it is the achievement of creativity that brings me the satisfaction of leaving something in a better way than I found it. Spiritually, I have a wonderful teacher Lucua, that does body talk, which I believe is a good “check in” for me to make sure I don’t overextend myself or lose myself in too much doing and not enough living. In my career, I am a leader without a title – a fire starter; I enjoy identifying, implementing, and delivering valuable solutions for business issues.

2. What work do you do?

Professionally, I began my career as a financial accountant and payroll administrator. I then joined Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) in 2011 as a financial accountant, working my way up to Assistant Manager in 2015, thereafter moving into an Enterprise performance role with a fintech focus. Following this, I joined Absa in 2017 as a Functions Business Partner, becoming a Senior Developer in 2019 on accounting systems for treasury, risk and finance businesses.

In 2022, I moved into a more operational role with a focus on design and implementation of governance, control, and benefit frameworks, as well as managing the implementation of strategic technology initiatives. A large part of my job is having conversations and drawing pictures, which I thoroughly enjoy as I constantly charter through complex and challenging environments. This bridges the gap between finance and technology to deliver solutions. My passion is creating structure, process, and innovation and through this adding value to business.

3. How long have you been in the industry?

My perseverance and lifelong dedication to learning has earned me some great experiences in consulting, insurance, and banking. That makes it 16 years that I have been in the financial services industry in different roles ranging from finance, project management, development and management.     

4. Has your work always been your passion? Tell us why?

Yes, it has. The reason I became interested in accounting and how businesses works was because of my mother who is a mechanic by profession and an entrepreneur. She had several small businesses, and I used to help her with admin work. In the process I learnt about quotations, invoicing and how debtors work. Seeing her being able to manage these businesses and doing what she loves, especially as a woman in a very technical, male-dominated industry, was quite inspiring. In hindsight, my mother was hoping for me to be in a more technical career but through spending time with her, I came to enjoy the accounting side more.

5. Being a woman in the industry – what does it take?

In the financial services industry, it is very tough and stressful. Being a woman in the industry you can find yourself in challenging situations. What I prefer to focus on is the growth I get from challenging situations. I have had numerous leaders in my career that have taught me many skills, both work and personal. It takes determination and open mindedness to survive in the industry.

To realise you can learn from anyone and to challenge your own thinking constantly. If I reflect on my days at PWC, I learnt from leaders how to build good client relations,  and to ask for advice when you’re not sure of something.. I learnt how to be a better manager to the article clerks as I practiced balancing empathy with delivery. Finally, during my time with Absa I learnt from leaders that there is a softness to a woman that is an enormous strength that we try downplaying in the hardened industry, which we really should be showcasing and using to uplift others.       

6. What has been the most difficult challenge of your career?

Learning how to juggle being a career woman, a new mother and a student pursuing my BCOM Management Accounting degree through Unisa was a challenging, but fulfilling, period of my life. The road to becoming an accountant is long and not without its challenges. I am particularly grateful for the Project Achiever programme, which I took part in through the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).

The programme helped me to prepare to write the SAIPA Professional Evaluation Exam and become a Professional Accountant (SA)– which was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream! Learning how to balance my many priorities took a lot of focus and perseverance, but I can confidently say it was worth it.   

7. What advice do you have for other women in your industry?

Being a woman in a male dominated industry, you need to learn from the environment that you find yourself in, adapt by adopting what works and what doesn’t work, without losing the strengths that you bring to the table. In business there is a fine line between emotions and getting the job done; having the emotional intellect to navigate through these situations will be a vital tool in your toolbox to success.

I would encourage any woman that feels unheard or unsupported to reach out and find a mentor or sponsor that can guide them to becoming more confident – there is much to learn from our counterparts! I recently read an article about women needing to find their voice and different ways organisations can help them in doing so, which I would recommend all women read.  

8. Plans for the future?

I assist graduates and new joiners in the financial industry to become the best versions of themselves and would like to continue doing so as I believe in “paying it forward” as many leaders have done for me. This is reiterated by Shakespeare’s quote “The meaning of life is finding your purpose; the gift of life is giving it to others.”  I am also currently studying through the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), and I would like to use this to continue to make a difference on strategic initiatives in business, while focussing on some of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the United Nations has set out.

I would especially like to work with initiatives to understand how to breach the inequality gaps and promote social mobility, ensure lifelong learning opportunities as I am passionate about education. With my professional SAIPA qualification I would like to help the informal sector grow their businesses which in turn would grow the economy of our beautiful country.