Beyond the Spreadsheets: Does Finance & Accounting Need to Invest in New Skills?
What is F&A Talent?
The outsourcing journey for the majority of Finance & Accounting (F&A) shared services centers (captive and outsourced) have so far been characterized by migrating transactional work to near shore and offshore destinations. Most F&A shared services centers tend to employ people with post graduate or graduate degrees in business administration, commerce, international business … or chartered accountants, chartered financial analysts and professionals with certifications from the CharteredInstitute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to service outsourcing contracts. The emphasis on hiring talent with domain expertise makes sense, considering the fact that F&A processes require in depth knowledge and understanding of the subject. Domain expertise also implies an easy familiarity with the transactions, faster delivery on decoding balance sheets, better understanding of financial and tax regulations, etc – thereby saving costs on hiring and training talent. Domain experts could also be leveraged to design solutions to shape positive business outcomes.
A Change on the Horizon
The 2013 Winshuttle Shared Service Center Report (on SSON’s website) lists improving business efficiency, automation of manual tasks, and reducing process variance as the top three priorities for shared service centers (including finance). Given this scenario, it’s a natural conclusion to ask whether it’s not going to be critical for finance professionals to employ diverse skills to create value for the business?
Most F&A roles are domain specific and thereby tend to limit interactions within and across the respective business units. To begin with, it’s important to enhance people and stakeholder management skills to effectively address and resolve business issues. Furthermore, finance is largely interpreted as a function that deals in risks and controls and so the focus on talent engagement and development in most shared service centers is underplayed. In this context finance professionals could benefit by cultivating a mindset that is less focused on controls and has the space to engage and understand the aspirations of talent.
"Most F&A roles are domain specific and thereby tend to limit interactions within and across the respective business units."
The widening influence of social media, cloud and web analytics in shaping trends in businesses and outsourcing models signals the cultivation of new business and social media skills. Beth Ellyn Rosenthal, in a study titled "The F&A Forecast: 14 Challenges and Six Solutions" (Outsourcing Center), mentions that nearly 30% of the respondents stated that FAO would rise to a new level if their service provider incorporated high-end analytics tools for insightful data analysis as part of their offerings [Editor’s note: providers know this and they are already moving in this direction]. So finance professionals need to look beyond the spreadsheets and start understanding the interdependence between IT systems, cloud and web analytics. Shantanu Ghosh, senior Vice President for Practices, Solutions and Transitions at Genpact, who co-authored a Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMA) Report titled "New Skills, Existing Talent" [September 2012] mentions that, "Business leaders no longer solely want accountants in finance roles. To succeed, they need finance functions which deliver insights and recommendations that build value far beyond management data and accurate regulatory filings."
"The widening influence of social media, cloud and web analytics in shaping trends in businesses and outsourcing models signals the cultivation of new business and social media skills."
The spotlight on big data (structured and unstructured) to influence business decisions is likely to impact the relationship between organizations and customers. So, finance professionals need to update their knowledge, availability and interpretation of tools related to big data; and a knowledge of mobile commerce and relevant platforms is likely to benefit finance professions considering the upswing in the number of transactions executed by mobile phones. A key benefit is that finance professionals will be in a better state of readiness to transform and articulate the roadmap for sustainable processes.
"A knowledge of mobile commerce and relevant platforms is likely to benefit finance professions considering the upswing in the number of transactions executed by mobile phones."
As per the CGMA/Genpact Report referenced above, finance is expected to play an increasingly strategic role, not only in driving efficiency and effectiveness, but also in creating capacity for a "partnership" with the business. The broadening of horizons will influence the existing levels of business acumen and is likely to change the predictable patterns of managing finance processes. Companies will be better prepared for future investment decisions if finance professionals develop a well-rounded perspective of business models.
In addition, the contours of outsourcing are changing, with General Electric moving manufacturing jobs from China back to the US. Given this trend, finance professionals should be familiar with emerging (out)sourcing models like near shoring, re-shoring and outcome-based implementations. The impact of existing risk and control frameworks will also mean we’ll see more re-investing in models that are flexible and closer to the dynamic business realities.
Borrowing learnings from other outsourcing domains, F&A SSCs could invest in finance rotation programs, for example. These structured cross-functional interventions will provide a holistic and enterprise-wide perspective to finance executives and enable them to establish a stronger connect with the business. They may shape alternative career paths and enable finance executives to reciprocate new ways of conducting business. Another approach could be to onboard more diverse profiles with rich experience in other outsourcing domains for strategic roles, to provide an outside-in perspective.
"Borrowing learnings from other outsourcing domains, F&A SSCs could invest in finance rotation programs."
Today, businesses operate in an environment where conventional operating models are challenged due to disruptive technologies and volatile market forces. No longer can businesses thrive in a cocoon and be profitable. For talent to survive these conditions they need to be inter-connected, adaptive, collaborative, engaged and agile. Given Finance’s central role in the organization, it’s imperative that finance transform into a mindset that seeks to collaborate and add value beyond the reconciliations and balance sheets of yesterday.