Accounting & finance moves out of the backroom

The report, The Changing Face of Accounting and Finance, forms part of Hudson’s Trans-Tasman Industry Leaders Series 2011 and is based on roundtable discussions and interviews with diverse group of CFOs, leading academics and accounting profession CEOs.

Changing expectations around the requirements and responsibilities of CFOs and their teams means they must increasingly embrace diverse range of talent from varying industries and backgrounds. “It’s time to drop stereotypical concepts of accounting and finance as backroom number crunchers,” said Tony Pownall, director of Hudson Accounting & Finance. “Today, these professionals are not solely defined by their technical skills, but increasingly by their strategic and entrepreneurial capabilities and we’re experiencing shortage of candidates with these broader skills.”

During the roundtable, many participants reported difficulty finding commercially-savvy candidates. “The base skill level is given, but it’s the next layer of skills – someone who can talk to the business, deal with the business and change with it – that is much harder to find,” commented Sue Parcell, managing director of finance for Tourism New Zealand.

Participants in the study hotly debated the roles that professional bodies, the education system and the corporate sector must play in order to ensure healthy pipeline of talent. “Responsibility must be shared if we are to ensure the profession thrives and survives in rapidly changing business world,” said Pownall.

The past decade has seen fundamental changes to regulatory systems, business models and management philosophies. With every high-profile corporate collapse comes increasingly strict corporate governance. Technology developments and the depth of data now delivered demand greater understanding of overall business.

The report has found that entry paths into the profession must be more flexible in order to attract skilled professionals who can use their experience from other industries to apply it to roles in the accounting and finance sector. “A broad spectrum of people and skills are clearly needed to fully meet the needs of the business, and so we need alternative ways for people from different backgrounds to enter the profession,” said Pownall.

The roundtable participants concluded that anyone with an interest in the principles of measurement, assurance and reporting, would have the potential to succeed in the accounting and finance profession.

The required skill set for successful CFOs is continuing to evolve, creating demand in the market for candidates with traditional accounting and finance skills, as well as the ability to engage with business and provide commercial insights and strategy. Soft skills, such as being able to communicate effectively with other business stakeholders, as well as with shareholders and analysts, are becoming increasingly sought after.

“Candidates have to be able to see improvements and opportunity in business, and possess the leadership and communication skills needed to convey and act on these,” said Pownall. “This is particularly important in Auckland where many New Zealand headquarters of Australasian and multi-national businesses are based. lot of high volume transactional accounting is now being outsourced, so expectations of finance professionals are higher – they are required to review financial information and translate this into commercial intelligence to help inform business decisions.”

Wellington-based manager of accounting & financial services at Hudson, Sarah Morris, says finance people have to show they can operate effectively outside the core finance team. “They often will spend as much time with project teams, engineers and policy makers for example, as they do within the tradition finance teams. There is more and more emphasis on the desire for candidates to have strong commercial thinking a

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