Gavin Hinks, journalist

Mohsin Jalali FCCA is not your typical financial head honcho. Certainly, as group CFO of Riyadh-based investment company Lafana, the family office of the Abunayyan family, he makes sure the organisation’s accounts and financial controls run smoothly and efficiently. Unlike most of his peers, though, he also pitches in with analysis and views on investment opportunities. Much of his time is accordingly spent buried in investment bank research, newspapers and reviews of investee company performance.

‘I not only participate as CFO in assessing financial performance, the liquidity position, risk management and suchlike,’ Jalali says, ‘I also review all the data and reports before the CEO recommends them to the board. It’s a very dynamic role. You have to go through things very closely and in detail, covering a 360-degree view.’

'When moving between jurisdictions, I never had to think about whether my qualification would be acceptable'

Young practitioner

It has been as much of a transformation for the one-time auditor turned financial controller as it would be for the typical CFO. Born and raised in Pakistan, the 37-year-old father of four (an eight-year-old son, a five-year-old daughter, and twin baby girls) has an accounting degree from Karachi University and another in applied accounting from Oxford Brookes (UK), and squeezed in his ACCA exams between the two.

Jalali worked first for a small UK accounting firm – Shaik & Co in the UK – for a couple of years before returning to his home city as a senior accountant with internet provider Multinet.

Then in 2010 came a move to EY in Riyadh, working for three years in audit, first as an engagement auditor and subsequently as an assistant manager in the assurance and advisory business. 'To work in Saudi was always my preference, due to emotional attachment with this country linked to easy access to its holy places, Makkah and Madinah.' 

His ACCA studies, he says, had given him the flexibility to move to any location. ‘Whenever I thought about moving from one jurisdiction to another, I never had to think about whether my qualification would be acceptable – because it is a globally recognised qualification.

‘And ACCA gave me a lot of skills: knowledge of accounting and IFRS, audit skills, performance management skills, people management, financial statements and managing business processes – all integrated into one qualification. It has really helped me a lot.’

Inside track

Then came the leap to Lafana. Attracted by its 'strong asset base and well diversified portfolio', he started off as the company’s financial controller in May 2014. Five years later he was promoted to FD, and then to CFO in January 2022.

Switching from external audit to being on the inside was a huge change for Jalali, but one he embraced wholeheartedly.

In truth, though, when he moved to Lafana he was already primed for change. ‘I had seen quite a lot of people who had been at EY for many, many years,’ he says. ‘I wanted to have hands-on experience in industry and the opportunity to participate at strategic level.’

And that’s exactly what Lafana has given him. The company invests the family wealth across a wide spectrum of businesses, overseas as well as in Saudi Arabia.

Jalali says: ‘I’ve got good exposure to major industries – the manufacturing sector, healthcare, real estate, telecoms. I’ve gained a good understanding of how businesses operate, rather than looking at them post facto as an auditor.’

Making his mark

His analysis was impeccable. Even though he was only financial controller at the time, Lafana was persuaded by it and deleveraged the group by almost 60%.

‘It helped us remain profitable in difficult times,’ says Jalali. ‘I really feel proud of what I did at that point in time and it was well appreciated by the board.’

With interest rates now rising again (the Saudi Arabian interbank lending rate has gone up from 0.9% to 3.9% in the last 11 months), Jalali says corporates with floating rates are 'suffering big time. As a risk manager I recommend that professionals hedge the rates and don't look at the cost. It will provide you with the comfort and security of non-volatility in the profit and loss account and consistent cashflow.'

Another key initiative Jalali is proud of was a plan to make the business more attractive to lenders. Jalali proposed that the business should start taking a controlling stake in the companies it invested in so that it could consolidate the financial statements. Once again the Lafana board agreed and went with his plan. ‘We became much more bankable,’ Jalali says.


Financial controller, then FD, then group CFO, Lafana, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Auditor, subsequently assistant manager for assurance and advisory, EY Saudi Arabia

Senior accountant, Multinet, Karachi, Pakistan

Auditor, Shaikh & Co, Manchester, UK

‘Recession talk is not just talk – it is fact’


While Jalali can look back on the recent past with satisfaction, his view of the future is a stark one.

The global market is hardening and Lafana is battening down the hatches. Jalali sees challenges in high interest rates, supply chain disruption and volatile equity markets. Recession talk is ‘not just talk’, he says. ‘It is fact.’

He expects banks to be hit by defaults by businesses and individuals. Having learned lessons from previous disruptions, Lafana is prepared for this, with much of its loan book already hedged. ‘We learned to take quick action with those investments that may be impacted and how to position ourselves,’ Jalali says. ‘We are confident we can survive this thing.’