Worrying about how increasing regulation has eaten into the working day has
been a favourite pastime of UK finance directors over the last five years.
The implementation of IFRS and Sarbanes-Oxley has given FDs good reason to
protest, but one finance director who isn’t complaining is Serge Corel, the
finance head of
The French FD of the support services group has worked in the UK since 1997,
and like his counterparts has worked through the dramatic changes to tax and
regulation that have swept through the finance and accounting community since
Yet despite the concerns of other FDs, Corel remains confident that the UK is
still way ahead of it continental rivals when it comes to doing business.
Corel jokes that London has almost become France’s ‘second city’, such has
been the influx of French businessmen and entrepreneurs into the UK capital.
‘The main reason why my compatriots have come to London is the money. There
is a huge difference between what you can earn in the City and what you can earn
in Paris. But there is another reason – the dynamism in the UK.
‘In France you can get the feeling that everything is difficult to do,
whether it is opening a business or even changing your job. Things are
compartmentalised and there is immobilism. For many of us who came over to the
UK, doing business here was like a breath of fresh air. There have been
regulatory changes but the UK definitely still has a competitive edge.’ Corel
Dynamism and an ability to manage change are essential for Corel’s role.
Mondial is a uniquely structured business offering a dizzying range of services
that range from CRM to insurance.
Corel describes Mondial as operating at the ‘intersection of service
insurance’. The company, a subsidiary of Mondial SA, which is ultimately owned
by global insurance giant Allianz, operates in two main areas.
The core arm of the business provides roadside assistance, customer
management, insurance and warranties to car owners on the behalf of blue-chip
manufacturers including BMW, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Audi.
A smaller business line has been developed in the travel sector, where
Mondial offers insurance through internet travel portals such as lastminute.com
and Expedia and airlines such as easyJet. The company is currently preparing to
expand into the healthcare sector, where it will occupy a similar niche, and it
also has a small CRM software business.
It’s a dizzying list of business lines, but Corel thrives on the variety this
structure offers. ‘We are a diverse business and all our clients want something
different that suits their brand. Each of our business lines has its own
complexities. It’s complex but it is nice,’ Corel says.
He has held his current position for more than a decade now, and watched
Mondial UK grow from a 200-man operation to into a business employing 1,000
people and turning over around £100m annually.
Arriving at the beginning of the company’s UK journey, Corel took charge of
setting up a finance structure to cope with the array of services and clients.
He has three financial controllers reporting to him, one each for the motor and
travel business and a third FC for the company’s Irish business.
‘It’s very important that the financial controllers dealing with the
businesses are generalists who understand the business from start to finish.
‘They cannot be limited to IFRS and closing the books. Those things are
important, but our finance team is very involved in pulling the levers that
deliver results. We play a key role in pricing negotiations and the underwriting
business is under the direct supervision of finance,’ Corel says.
He believes that an accountancy qualification has provided him and his team
with the perfect tools to take on the responsibilities of pricing deals and
He sees the qualification as the ideal way to learn about business and
understand what drives success. It also offers versatility and the ability to
shift between sectors and service lines and still create value.
‘Working in finance gives you access to the main decision makers and makes
you a key part of any strategy decisions. Through the figures you learn how to
understand a business quickly,’ Corel says. ‘In one of my previous roles I
worked for a company that made clutches, so I was dealing with factories and
large manufacturing operations. Now I am in insurance and services. It hasn’t
been so difficult to make that change because of my finance training.’
This versatility has been a crucial skill for Corel. Mondial, as the provider
of customer services and insurance, has been affected more than most by the
growing trend of moving these types of services to emerging markets such as
India and China.
Yet despite this development, Corel says the company has not moved any of its
operations off shore and has no intention of doing so.
‘I really believe that our services should be delivered in the UK by people
living in the UK. If you break down and call in for roadside assistance, the
person on the other side of the telephone needs to have an idea of where you are
located and what kind of help you need. It is essential for quality service and
I think we have seen that with a number of banks moving their call centres back
into the UK,’ Corel says.
A separate trend where he does have a more sympathetic view is on the issue
of auditor rotation, which has been investigated by the Financial Reporting
Council and attracted the attention and energy of the leading accounting firms.
Corel believes that compulsory audit rotation could benefit business and
‘After a certain period of time your relationship with your auditor can
become a little bit too comfortable. If it was compulsory to change auditors, it
would force you to put everything on the table and look at it with fresh pair of
‘I think that when an auditor has worked with a company for a number of years
it does not always give it the same attention that is could because it is
comfortable,’ he says.
But he’s not in favour of joint audits even though his was a system he was
very familiar with in France. ‘It is a difficult one. Managing your relationship
with one auditor is difficult enough, especially if your auditors have two
different opinions,’ Corel says.
Whatever happens on the regulatory front, Corel is ready to face whatever
comes his way. ‘I started here in 1997 in the same year as Tony Blair. I hope I
am going to stay on much longer than him.’
A light touch
‘Sarbanes-Oxley’ and ‘light touch’ are seldom used in the same sentence, if
ever. Yet for Serge Corel, the finance director of Mondial UK, he couldn’t have
managed the one without the other.
As Mondial, the motoring and travel support services business, is ultimately
owned by insurance and financial services giant Allianz, there was no escape for
Corel from the dreaded Section 404.
But rather than work himself into a flat panic about the massive resources
and time the Sarbox compliance would cost, Corel focused on implementing Sarbox
with a ‘light touch’.
‘We were in the Sarbox catchment area, but I wanted to see how we could
comply without using too much resource. We had to find the balance between the
two devils of overdoingour compliance or not doing enough,’ Corel says.
He decided to take a ‘DIY’ approach to the regulations. ‘We tried not to use
outside consultants and did most of it ourselves. We adopted a light touch
approach,’ he explains.
Coping with IFRS was even easier. ‘Luckily we did not encounter the more
difficult standards. We do not have complex hedges or derivatives and there are
no pension deficit issues so IFRS was not very complex for us,’ he says.
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