View from the board: a safe place to be, rain or shine

First and foremost, I’m not saying that we are heading into a recession.
However, there is no doubt that the market is being squeezed, and certain
anomalies are coming to light.

Many of you may remember the last time the market took a dive, and some of
you may even remember the time before that. Neither were fun, and we’re all
hoping it doesn’t happen again ­ or that, if it does, the effect on people and
their careers is not felt to the same degree.

Whatever happens, it looks like the role of finance is safeguarded. And this
appears to be so for two very specific reasons. If you consider the more
technical finance roles, the increasing focus on the regulatory and
governance-orientated elements has proved beneficial.

It’s a brave (or short-sighted) FD who decides to recruit a poor financial
accountant, and it’s an even braver CEO who doesn’t sign off on the hiring.

The requirement of the external market ­ in public, private or not-for-profit
organisations ­ is that the numbers are accurate and have complete integrity.
The price for failure in this area is high, and far-reaching. It has serious
career implications.

If you think it’s worth saving £10,000 or £110,000 by recruiting a poor chief
accountant or no chief accountant at all, then you deserve everything that comes
your way. The simple fact is that these roles and the people that do them ought
to be as recession-proof as undertakers.

However, my second reason, and the area that has changed most radically, is
the field of commercial finance. This role has evolved so much over the last
five to six years that I think ‘general management’ perception of it has
fundamentally shifted.

In the last two turn-downs, businesses felt they could make do with fewer
people on the planning side ­ what, after all, was there to plan for? Work was
just about treading water, and you could worry about growth when the market
turned back.
Now, the view seems to be that the role of commercial finance is essential to a
business ­ in good AND bad times.

The value commercial finance offers a business includes profit enhancement
and cost management ­ relevant to any business in any market. Indeed, in poorer
times, it’s even more essential. So let’s cross our fingers the market doesn’t
dip horribly. But if it does, then let’s all congratulate ourselves for our
choices ­ you for being in what feels like a recession-proof function; and me
for recruiting you.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray & Berndtson

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