The role of the finance professional is changing rapidly in the face of increasing globalisation and the growth in scale and complexity of international business activities.
The structure of companies has also changed. Most decision making is devolved and conducted in flexible teams and task forces. Finance has become a central element of these groups and is often the only function in a company which can offer a broad perspective.
Finance directors and managers are often the only senior personnel in companies with comprehensive knowledge of how individual projects within the organisation fit into wider strategic and policy goals.
ACCA has recently launched an important consultation project designed to establish what kind of finance people the corporate world needs for the next century. Over the last few months, we have been asking directors of companies of all sizes across the world for their views on the future role of finance professionals.
This exercise has also raised a series of questions about the nature of the function itself.
We have just issued a position statement called Financial vision or corporate focus? which highlights the need for accountants to become strategic advisers, people managers and decision makers.
The booklet also emphasises that although technology has changed the role of the accountant fundamentally, knowledge and skills in the core areas of financial accounting, taxation and business analysis and measurement remain essential.
In the rush to develop business-focused accountants, it is easy to overlook the importance of these technical abilities.
A second theme which has emerged from the consultation is that the knowledge which accountants have when they qualify is no longer sufficient for the whole of their working lives.
Acquiring their qualification is a starting point for lifelong learning and not the end of professional development.
Change in the work of finance professionals is not limited to multinational blue-chip companies. But it is a central feature in the dialogue with business leaders which ACCA has initiated.
Our consultation has already shown that a generalist, wide-ranging syllabus is more relevant to the widening role of accountants than one which is narrowly focused on specific areas of expertise.
This will feed into the new syllabus which ACCA will introduce in 2001.
It will ensure that the syllabus is truly relevant to the needs of employers, members and students.
ACCA has invited business leaders and educationalists to comment through our dedicated website or by writing to our chief executive, Anthea Rose.
Our purpose is to stimulate a major debate about the skills which the modern finance function will need, and how those skills should be acquired, retained and improved.
John Brockwell is a divisional financial controller with Marks & Spencer and vice-president of ACCA
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