We recently met Siyasibulela Kepe at the Top 35-under 35 networking event in Cape Town. He’s one dynamic individual who is a community developer at heart with an avid inclination toward blockchain technology that will help root out corruption in the public sector. He recently graduated to become a blockchain expert at the European Tech School, sponsored by his firm, BDO Financial Services.
Currently, Siyasibulela Kepe is a financial services trainee at BDO’s Cape Town office where he is an IBM-certified data scientist. His work involves machine learning, data analysis and data visualisation.
He is not ashamed to say that he has experienced adversity growing up as a child and believes that he was born for greater things. While studying for his undergrad six years ago, he established an NPO called the Kepe Foundation in the Eastern Cape to help underprivileged street kids. He has built strong partnerships with businesses and higher education institutions like Nvest Holdings and the University of Fort Hare to ensure that children in orphanages have food, they get the school shoes they need, and their learning is significantly improved through early childhood development initiatives.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he also assisted in helping four Eastern Cape rural villages obtain water which they had never had for generations. These communities began to plough their fields, and they are producing food for their families to this day.
Here is more about him …
When did you interest in blockchain begin and why?
In 2017, I observed that a huge gap existed in the pace of the accounting profession and the pace of global corporate, and I realised we need to prepare ourselves for this Fourth Industrial Revolution wave. I started researching and taking courses on the relevant technologies that will affect the accountancy profession. To my surprise I realised that these technologies were invented to perfect our imperfections as humans and bring about greater efficiencies. That is why I developed and compiled material that can be used by Accounting students in high school and at university, as well as trainees, to upskill themselves on these technologies. I delved deep into the phenomenon ‘blockchain’. I also learnt more about data science, big data and AI. Different types of information can be stored on a blockchain, but the most common use so far has been as a ledger for transactions, and that is where my passion comes in − to have this immutable ledger that will root out corruption in our public sector supply chain to ensure a transparent and traceable process of large sums of funds intended for services delivery.
Where about are you currently in your CA journey?
I am currently preparing for my last board exam, the APC. I would have not got this far if it were not for many people − in particular Milpark CA Connect − that gave me hope when I was at the point of giving up on becoming a CA. But through their innovative teaching, I was able to obtain my CTA and SAICA ITC on my first attempt. Their learning philosophy and methodology worked well for me. My CA training at BDO Financial Services is one I will forever be grateful for and won’t regret, because I got an opportunity to work on both international projects and local projects. This gave me great variety of perspective.
Four months ago, you were accepted to study at the European Tech School to study towards becoming a blockchain technology expert. Tell us more?
I acquired a deep understanding of how blockchain works and how it impacts multiple financial services organisations, and mainly financial services industries. I delved into the history, evolution, and real-world applications of blockchain and how these technologies influence executive decision-making.
My exposure was limitless. It ranged from use cases such as self-sovereign identity, CBDCs, stablecoins, cryptocurrencies, finance, capital markets and banking, security tokens, utility tokens and decentralised finance to supply chain and trade finance, insurance and health, clinical trials, drug counterfeits, health records and even the content economy such as NFT, music, digital art, etc.
With my blockchain skillset and knowledge I had the privilege to be accepted by the Financial Services BDO team specialising in regulation in financial services to bring a perspective of blockchain in South African regulation, accounting treatment, ecosystem, new developments, and governance of blockchain of various financial services entities.
Tell us more about the projects you are involved in to train and bring thought leadership to the national financial services section at BDO?
Project Khokha Phase 1: Exploring the use of distributed ledger technology for interbank payments settlement in South Africa (PK1) − The South African Reserve Bank (SARB), in consortium with seven commercial banks, used Quorum, an enterprise-grade implementation of Ethereum, to create a blockchain-based interbank system that processed the typical daily volume of payments with full confidentiality and finality in record time.
Project Khokha Phase 2: SARB debenture issued on a DLT/Blockchain (PK2) − Project Khokha 2 will issue, clear, and settle debentures on DLT/Blockchain using tokenised money in a minimum viable product (MVP) to inform policy and regulatory reflections. Industry participants will be able to purchase the debentures with a wholesale central bank-issued digital currency (wCBDC) and a wholesale digital settlement token (wToken). The wToken can be seen as a privately issued stablecoin used for interbank settlement.
In 2019 I obtained an IBM-certified data scientist badge (which encompasses machine learning, data analysis, and data visualisation). One of the most important lessons was that as aspiring CAs we don’t need to be very technically savvy in these skillsets − we need to be aware and know how, what and why they are relevant in the organisations that we are leading so we can influence and advise strategic thinking and employ talent that will implement these technologies and bring efficiency to the businesses we work for.
You are passionate about getting involved in the public sector. Please share more about your passion?
I am not ashamed to share that when growing up I experienced harsh adversity, but I knew I was destined for greater things. I love serving the public, because I want to be that one person that I wished I was when I was growing up in the village of Manzimdaka. One of the initiatives of the Kepe Foundation is buying school shoes for children who don’t have shoes. It’s heart-breaking that in 2022 we still have such problems. It reminds me of an experience I had in Grade 2 when my mom had to dye my tackies black so I can have shoes for school. All these initiatives are very close to my heart, as I always see myself in the beneficiaries am serving.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would love to work for SAICA ensuring that we research, develop and create all-time relevant CAs(SA), in particular with digital acumen and corporate citizenship elements. In my vision and plans, I see this being implemented from high school to university, at training office and in corporate at large. I see building a legacy with the SAICA brand and ultimately have its own Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) transforming CAs to serve our country’s issues with an accurate understanding of socio-economic problems and accurate technical, digital and governance solutions.
I see myself being a great father to three wonderful children. I see myself having matured as an entrepreneur, and maybe followed in the footsteps of Andile Khumalo CA(SA).