A new report by the Chartered Global Management Accountant Association suggests that companies that empower finance professionals to take a broader role in the future of the business are getting it right.
They still do all the accounting basics for the business, but they work more closely with business managers to provide decision support and advice.
The report, New Skills, Existing Talents – The new mandate for finance professionals in supporting long-term business success, shows that a company is better equipped to reach its goals when finance professionals take on a more influential role in management decisions.
The report suggests getting to this position is a two-way street and requires both accounting professionals and companies to step up to the challenge with finance professionals thinking about their role in a broader context and companies investing more in training and support.
I’ve always maintained that not all accountants will want such responsibilities thrust upon them and the report recognizes that a successful transition means moving beyond the accepted comfort zone and building commercial skills and communication and interpersonal capabilities.
Many in the profession perhaps don’t welcome such a qualitative change in their work and responsibilities, for it is indeed a whole new ball game for them. Business managers interviewed for the report were clear that it wasn’t enough for accountants just to offer better quality and more timely information; they expected insight and practical advice.
So what’s holding back progress towards the blossoming of the management accountant into business partner? The report’s findings suggest that:
- Currently accountants are still too focussed on financial data while the business needs better non-financial information in order to understand what’s behind the numbers.
- Finance professionals recognise the skills they need to shift their roles, but they’re sometimes too busy with essential duties, such as internal reporting requirements, to take part of decision-making.
- In higher-performing organisations, finance has a greater role in managing risk and although this is beneficial, it too may be too time consuming to support business managers.
That there is still a way to go before finance is considered a partner in the business is borne out by findings that show that finance managers have a greater view of their value than other managers do.
More than 70% of the finance professional interviewed considered themselves “highly” or “greatly” valued whereas on 54% of non-finance managers assigned those value qualities to their finance colleagues. This not a large gap by any means, but closing it will take a concerted effort and the report recommends several actions:
- Focusing on forward-looking information and insights for decision-making that are most valued by the business.
- Getting involved in understanding non-financial data and how it links with financial numbers to provide business managers with better insight.
- Finance showing their worth by investing time in communicating strategies on efficiency measures and other value-driven initiatives to the entire business.
So although finance have a clear mandate in many companies to take a greater role in decision-making with the business managers, the report suggests that progress is perhaps not happening at the pace we might expect.
My advice would be for accounting teams to identify some areas of their business where there are opportunities for some quick wins that are likely to be well received by the business managers as a way to keep this ball moving forwards. The game is in your favour and there is everything to play for.