A decade ago accountants with an eye on their future career would talk about the need for decision support. Now – 10 years later – the concept seems as good as extinct and passed over for the realm of the strategist.
Across business, smart talk is all about strategy and the ability of men and women to exercise innovation and foresight in planning for future change.
Fully-qualified and on the way up the corporate ladder, accountants working in business are increasingly being asked to display skills and attributes traditionally expected of senior management.
Personal skills and leadership qualities that go hand-in-hand with a strategic approach to business are now in increasing demand from accountants in the mid-ground between completing training and entering the echelons of senior management.
Exams navigated and the wide world of accountancy ahead, the effort needed to succeed in modern business may bring personal satisfaction and recognition from senior managers and colleagues, but often go unheeded by the world outside.
Whether that achievement is leading a project team or heading a company initiative, this year Accountancy Age has chosen to establish a new category in our Awards for Excellence which will recognise talented accountants building their careers in the world of business.
Talent and potential are the key qualities that judges will be looking for among candidates – and the individual selected must clearly show all the attributes that will single him or her out as a future financial or managing director.
Sponsored by Grant Thornton, the Business Accountant of the Year Award has been set up to recognise the skills in the making that are now essential for a modern finance director – entrepreneurial qualities, commercial flair and innovation.
And accountants at the top of the corporate ladder know that this is the criteria that is essential now – not just in senior management, but also for those on their way up.
Group finance director of Cadbury Schweppes, David Kappler, believes a modern business accountant needs a broad range of skills to succeed in business.
He explains: ‘The combination of strong financial and management skills with a practical knowledge and experience of business, financial and information strategy, provides the necessary ‘toolkit’ to operate in a commercial, multidisciplinary business environment.’
Ian Livingston, group finance director at the UK high street electrical retailer Dixons wants commercial business managers and not just fully-qualified accountants with traditional skills.
‘They may be in the finance department, but they may also be in the marketing or commercial services departments and move around every six months,’ he says.
Rapid change in the business world now requires accountants not only with a broad mix of skills, but the flexibility needed to keep abreast of new technology and products.
Boardrooms no longer require specialists but broadly skilled managers who can make decisions beyond their accounts departments, have an understanding of the organisation in which they operate – not just the figures – and who can see the wider strategic picture in daily financial information.
Jake Claret, deputy secretary at CIMA, explains: ‘Across business, alongside developments like automated outsourcing and period reporting, there has been a growing need for strategists to concentrate on the big picture.’
He believes the qualities needed by business accountants to reach financial director status or beyond are akin to those of an entrepreneur.
‘It’s almost as if the business accountant has become a gypsy or a freelance capable of working anywhere within an organisation,’ he says.
That also means job-hopping is becoming a more frequent occurrence among business accountants, according to a recent survey by recruitment service Robert Half.
But the question the profession cannot agree on is whether business accountants are so in demand that they can decide where they work and what they want to do, or whether the business world is in such a state of flux that its accountants will struggle to keep their skills up-to-date and in demand.
E-business is one area that raises questions for both business accountants and finance directors further up the ladder – everyone agrees they need to be ahead of developments, but many believe that substantial numbers are lagging dangerously far behind rapid changes.
‘Read the job advertisements for finance directors for e-businesses and you’ll come across a completely different skill set from the ones that accountants have traditionally packed in their briefcases,’ says George Littlejohn, who wrote the English ICA guidelines Risk and Regret in E-business.
‘Many finance directors out there have little clue where their businesses should be going in this new, wired world.’
Business accountants may be surrounded by the debate about the future of the role of the trained accountant in the modern business world, but they can be sure the professional judgement that they exercise and develop on a daily basis in their roles will never be out of favour.
And that ability to judge and lead will for the first time be recognised in this year’s Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence.
For more details on how to enter, visit www.accountancyage.com A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSORS: GRANT THORNTON Grant Thornton is a leading financial and business adviser to owner-managed businesses and their owners. We provide a comprehensive range of business advisory services from 43 offices throughout the UK backed by the resources of Grant Thornton International, which has representation in 100 countries worldwide.
Entry is free
Closing date for entries: 28 July 2000
Ceremony: 1 November 2000
Venue: Natural History Museum, London
Accountancy Age is happy to have won the backing of all five major accountancy bodies again this year along with a host of other key players in the accountancy profession.
As well as the presentations, the evening will provide an excellent opportunity to meet leaders of the accountancy world. Bookings for tables open this week and you can reserve your seat at the profession’s top event of 2000 by dialling 020 7316 9539 or e-mailing: email@example.com
– For an entry form visit: www.accountancyage.com. ?:
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