The image of the finance team has come a long way from the dark days when colleagues in other departments would look upon them as an invisible breed of backroom bean counters crunching numbers. Team work is still the key to achieving results, but like a set of top relay runners, each member has to be able to work flat out to his or her own limits to finish ahead. And the move from backroom boys and girls ‘doing the books’ has followed the changing role of many a finance boss across businesses and organisations. Finance directors are no longer perceived as stalwarts of accounting know-how and little else, but as corporate strategists with an intimate knowledge of a company’s business. And with more time needed for the big questions of business direction, finance directors have had to delegate their responsibilities more broadly among their team. High profile multinational and multibillion pound mergers, the pressure to get e-commerce strategies up-and-running and bringing in much vaunted cost cutting benefits have again, this year, highlighted the key role finance teams play driving corporate change. Outsourcing of the traditional activities such as management accounts has also released finance teams from the traditional aspects of work to concentrate on strategy. In short, finance departments are becoming centres of people with a strategic mindset whose finance function has to give added value to their organisation. And this November Accountancy Age will recognise the top finance team in the public or private sector as part of its Awards for Excellence. An array of high-quality entries from business to training councils and housing trusts last year bid for the Finance Team of the Year title, won by Selfridges group. Judges recognised hard efforts played by the department store group in turning itself around in an increasingly hostile and crowded high street, a battleground that this year claimed the scalp of the mid-range Principles group. For decades, Selfridges was considered as a has-been trader out of touch with modern shoppers. But, a well-focused finance team instilled a corporate shake-up over the past five years and saw sales increase 17.2% over the previous year, reaching a turnover of #360m. It started with the decision by finance director Peter Williams and his young and dynamic finance team to go alone from owners Sears, who had overseen an haemorrhage of 95% of its London finance and IT to Sears HQ in Leicester. The finance team worked hard getting to grips with what the company needed, before realising that another change would further rip up and unsettle the group. Williams says about his team: ‘We spent a lot of time talking to them, explaining our expansion plans, and we managed to retain all our people.’ Demerger back in 1998 has led to the opening of a second store in Manchester and plans are well developed for a third store in Birmingham to open in 2003. A Selfridges’ turnaround has shown how an FD with a strategic remit can also bring the finance team to the centre stage – with Williams’ finance controller Phil Clark now chairing trade meetings and the finance team linked into the commercial aspect of the business. Finance director Williams may know the added value a multi-disciplined finance team can bring to a company, but research released this month by the English ICA’s finance and management faculty highlights the message still has to be taken on board by many business leaders. More than 200 UK businesses of all shapes and sizes contacted showed the added value brought by finance teams and the finance function was rated very differently by chief executives with a finance and non-finance background. More than 60% of chief executives from a non-accounting background thought that finance teams only rated in the low-to-middling in the added value they brought to the rest of the company; while perhaps not surprisingly more than 95% of FDs gave their teams a score in the medium to high-value categories. Some chief executives even claimed that finance teams don’t play a significant role in investment decisions – a finding that English ICA head of finance faculty Chris Jackson says reflects the split in large businesses between dedicated support and analysis departments and investment appraisal functions. Colin Kunz, the report’s author, spotlights a significant disparity between what finance directors think they and their finance teams bring to a company and what their immediate heads still think of the role of the finance function. ‘It can be acknowledged that finance has made progress in its attempts at becoming a valued member of the business’ Kunz concludes. ‘However, its is also clear that the finance managers feel they are further along this process that their non-finance colleagues’ evaluation.’ A gulf that Accountancy Age will this year help to further bridge. – For more details on how to enter visit www.accountancyage.com A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSORS: INSIGHT At Insight, we are able to offer a full spectrum of recruitment and added management services. We have developed new ways to tackle old problems and can advise on all aspects of recruitment and manpower planning. Our innovative style creates a trail for others to follow our lead. Experience the best. EVENT DETAILS 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: firstname.lastname@example.org For an entry form visit: www.accountancyage.com.
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