Outstanding industry achievement: Douglas Flint

Douglas Flint, group finance director of HSBC bank, receives this year’s
Outstanding Industry Achievement award. In what has been a difficult year for
anyone working in finance, it is those that have been working in the thick it
that have come to stand out. Douglas Flint is one such accountant.

But then Flint has always stood out and his work always gone well beyond his
day job at HSBC.

This award comes to Flint for not only upholding the highest standards in his
chosen profession, but working hard behind the scenes to give something back.
Flint has never just been a FD, he has always contributed in other areas, such
as international accounting standards and the search for improvement in how
accountants do their work.

As an FD, he has always led from the front, been willing to take a public
stance and acts promptly in a crisis.

Flint was a partner at KPMG before joining HSBC as group finance director in
1995. He is a member of ICAS and a fellow of CIMA. In 2006, he received a CBE
for services to the finance industry.

His time in practice was clearly a major influence on the rest of his career.
HSBC was the first UK bank to acknowledge a sub-prime crisis in its US business
and promptly dispatched Flint to bring about a resolution. The decision to
reveal the substantial write downs early revealed a willingness to tackle
problems head on. He has a knack for an engaging phrase that can also be
brutally honest. When asked at one stage in the crisis if there was light at the
end of tunnel, he is said to have replied: “Yes, but the trouble is, you don’t
know if there’s a train coming the other way.”

HSBC has since remained outside the government’s bail out scheme and, though
it has worked on a cash call from investors, it has maintained one of the
strongest capital ratios in the sector without resorting to state aid ­ an
achievement any banking FD would give his bonus up for right now. Experts
attribute the achievement to Flint’s hard work on the numbers. As one insider
said: “Douglas has always worked as a very strong strategic partner to the CEO
and has been able to build a world class finance function to partner with the
bank across all of its geographies.”

Flint himself recognised the lead bank executives should take in the crisis
by waiving a bonus, along with other HSBC directors, and by speaking out on the
issue of bank supervision. As the crisis unravelled in November last year he
said: “We have moved towards regulation and away from supervision and we need to
move back.” Few bankers at the time were openly suggesting they needed to be
more closely scrutinised, even if it was already the prevailing public opinion.

But it is everything else that Flint does that makes him this year’s
outstanding achiever. One colleague said: “In previous generations it was not
uncommon for finance directors of major companies to be involved personally in
the development of accounting standards and of the profession generally. The
pressures of modern business have made such involvement a rare commodity, but
Douglas, despite having one of the most demanding jobs in Britain, has given a
huge amount to accountancy over many years.”

He has served on the Accounting Standards Board, the advisory council of the
International Accounting Standards Board and fronted the government’s review of
the Turnbull Guidance on Internal Controls.

Flint also co chaired the Group of Thirty review that produced a report on
Enhancing Public Confidence in Financial Reporting. This is a body that can
boast members such as Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman, European
Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet and Financial Services Authority
chairman Lord Adair Turner.

All this goes to make Douglas Flint a worthy winner of the Accountancy Age
Award for Outstanding Industry Achievement.


“The most difficult challenge is balancing management time between
internal, external and personal constituencies.You need to make the best balanc
e between all you want to achieve in business.You mustn’t get dominated by one
element that wants your input more than others. He who shouts loudest shouldn’t
necessarily get noticed.”

Related reading