An accountant’s role in a dynamic environment

Martin is an experienced accountant with expertise in reporting in  UK GAAP and IFRS. Martin also has significant systems experience having implemented SAP at his current employer. Prior to his current role he worked in public practice on a varied portfolio of clients ranging from PLCs to not for profit and charitable organisations.   

In the current economic climate many companies and indeed the Government itself are more focussed than ever on operational costs. Accountants tend to be very comfortable recording, controlling and accounting for costs within the business but the value of the work completed by accountants and the potential for accountants to add value to a business often goes un-noticed. A focus removal of non value adding steps (and costs) from business processes will inevitably mean that unless accountants successfully adapt to be seen as value adding, at some point the accountant themselves will be the target for cost reductions.

Although at the start of 2012, we are facing some tough economic conditions, it does not mean that there are not opportunities both for business and the accountant. Businesses need to be innovative and adaptable in order to meet the increasingly choosy and cautious customer’s wants and needs. The accountant has a key role to play in assessing new products and opportunities.

For companies to succeed, the need to understand relationships with customers and suppliers is more important than ever. Accountants have many skills that are an essential part of any successful  strategic management team. Analysing costs and number crunching, acting as a last check to ensure that the entrepreneurial heart of the business has not made any miscalculations will not be seen as a strategic value adding role. Rather than be the team member left analysing the costs after the key decisions have been made accountants need to position themselves at the heart of the business identifying potential business opportunities.

In order to fulfil their position  and potential to add value, accountant’s themselves need to be flexible and move away from dealing with the historic costs they are comfortable with to appraising opportunities and associated financial risks that are not quite as definite, appraising the intangible future as opposed to the tangible past. This approach can go against the accountant’s instinct and training but without moving out of comfort zone and being innovative and entrepreneurial, accountants themselves will be perceived as a business overhead to be controlled.

As accountants, it is essential that we all promote the skills and abilities that accounting training can provide. I remember studying marketing, performance management, HR and law during my training, although I do not have specialist knowledge in these areas, it demonstrates that the accountant is more than a bean counter but an all round business professional and a key player in the business that can in turn transform the modern business helping the it to adapt and achieve in a dynamic market place.


ASDA hosts open house to seek out fresh finance talent

Are you qualified, about to qualify or a recently qualified ACA/ICAS/CTA (or equivalent) from Practice looking for an ideal industry move?

Are you an ACA/ ICAS/CTA (or equivalent) who qualified/qualifies between  2007 – 2012? Do you have exceptional academics? – most of the candidates ASDA recruit with have 1st class or 2:1 degrees and As & Bs at A level (or equivalent) Have you demonstrated exceptional career development while still being at the early stages of your career? Have you decided that a move into industry is your long term career path? Perhaps you have never considered a career in Finance Retail, but would be interested in finding out more?

If this sounds like you then perhaps your next move should be towards ASDA’s career information and networking evening, taking place in Leeds this month. ASDA are on the lookout for talented professionals to join their finance team in a number of capacities, including Audit, Audit, Business Accounting, Corporate Accounts, Commercial Finance, Planning and Business Development.

Patrick, one of their Finance Scheme Graduates who joined them early last year says, “My first role was in Business Planning where I was responsible for the construction and on-going management of all of ASDA’s store budgets. In my second role I was the financial support for a Walmart international investors conference held at ASDA in April 2010, with my main focus being the production of a review book on ASDA’s business strategy and performance.”

Being part of ASDA’s finance team means working at the heart of the business and with a £20 billion P&L to manage, there’s no dearth of opportunities and challenges. In other words, if you’re good, career progression is guaranteed.

“Something I’ve really enjoyed about ASDA is the level of responsibility given to me from day one, however there is also a strong support network that surrounds me. It’s not over the top, but I know that there is always someone ready and happy to help me. As well as this informal support, I also receive regular structured feedback through appraisals and career reviews” adds Patrick.

Based on the type of expertise required ASDA’s finance team is divided into Financial Controllership, Commercial Finance and Internal Audit.

If you were part of one of their Financial Controllership teams, you would be play an important part in ensuring accuracy, transparency and timeliness across financial accounting, reporting, supplier payments and receivables, as well as taxtreasury and pensions management. As part of one of these teams, you would have the chance to take control (quite literally) and your role is likely to include its own areas of P&L and balance sheet responsibility. You’ll also be expected to take the lead to deliver outstanding finance customer service and to continuously improve the efficiency of ASDA’s processes by leveraging your talent, new systems and technologies. The Financial Controllership team is their largest finance team which means you will have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills and your ability to sharpen not just your own skills and talent but also those of others you work with.

Should you be placed within the Commercial Finance department, it’s one of ASDA’s Category and Department Finance teams that you would be joining, where you would help to partner the company’s business areas, working within specific business unit that they partner. You can expect your job to have a strong analytical focus here with a mix of long-term strategy and day-to-day decision making to be done. As part of this department, you’d help with everything from analysing business performance to establishing category and supplier strategies and appraising investments.

The other department you could find yourself in is Internal Audit, which is part of ASDA’s Global Audit team and where all key business processes get reviewed. Your role would be focused on taking measures to protect the company by understanding the risks the business is facing and executing insightful audit work to identify powerful actions to improve our business. On this team, you’d work in partnership with the business to support our growth and drive changes. You will also have the chance to look at the business from varying perspectives and build strong external networks. What’s more, you’d be in a position to offer business insight and guidance on best practice across both ASDA and Walmart.

So, if you think you’re a cut above the rest of the ACA’s out there, contact one of the consultants below to find out more.

The Next Generation of Managers

With university fees on the increase, many young people are looking at alternative routes into their chosen careers. Should employers now be looking to school leavers instead of graduates for their next generation of managers?

University is no longer a financially viable option for most young people and it’s fair to say that it hasn’t been a guaranteed route into the majority of graduates’ chosen careers for some time. Recent research commissioned by the AAT and the CEBR revealed that an estimated 55% of this year’s university leavers will graduate into unemployment or unskilled roles.

While many young people might feel a door has been closed to them with university fees being hiked up, it’s actually a really exciting time for ambitious school leavers and businesses alike. We are currently noticing a big trend with employers recruiting school leavers over graduates through apprenticeship schemes. Proctor & Gamble for instance have adopted this approach, solely recruiting school leavers for their European Finance Centre, with lots of other companies of varying size and scale following suit.

Why? Firstly, school leavers tend to have a strong idea about the career they want and therefore are determined to work hard to achieve their career goals rather than it just being something they ‘fell into’. School leavers on apprenticeship schemes have a strong sense of pride and willingness to learn. They don’t come with huge expectations and are aware how lucky they are to be earning, training and working at the same time. They also tend to have a good work ethic and are used to a school routine – this lends itself well to the office environment.

School leavers also have a strong sense of loyalty to their employer and apprentice scheme. They invest in the business and the business invests in them. This sense of worth instils confidence in the school leaver and as they climb the career ladder they inevitably add more value to the business. School leavers are not just stop-gapping before something better comes along.

Not only can apprenticeship schemes be more cost effective, but all businesses across all sectors must appreciate the benefits of cherry picking highly motivated young people.

While of course I understand that there will always be some professions which will always need graduates of a certain calibre, I do think there are still many businesses nationwide that haven’t considered hiring anyone other that a graduate and it’s these employers who should think again.

I’m excited by our apprenticeship programme and the new school leavers joining us this autumn. They have the right foundations that our business needs. If they work hard, maintain a positive attitude and are supported properly, then they will go far. In this fragile economy all employers should wise up and see the potential of a school leaver, knowing what a sound and solid investment they can truly be.

Jane Scott Paul has been Chief Executive of the AAT since 1997. Under Jane’s leadership, the AAT has grown to an overall membership of 120,000 with an influential voice in the education, training, development and support of accounting technicians worldwide. She was awarded Honorary Membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) in 2003 and the OBE in 2008 for services to the accountancy profession.

By Jane Scott Paul

A Serious Approach to Social Media

Allowing employees to use social media at work can create benefits for an accountancy firm, especially if rules and expectations are set up front.

The use of social media is rapidly transforming the way we communicate and conduct business. While some firms have been quick to embrace the Web 2.0 way of working, many others are taking more of a wait-and-see approach. Often, their caution is linked to uncertainty about what impact social media might have on workforce productivity.

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half’s U.S. operations revealed that more than half of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) worry that their employees will waste time if allowed to use social media while on the job. Eighteen per cent cited unprofessional behaviour as a top concern. However, when asked about benefits, 3 in 10 CFOs said social media would allow their teams to provide better customer service. Enhancing the firm’s reputation, expanding contact networks, and securing new business were also seen as potential rewards.

If your firm is thinking seriously about making social media an everyday business tool for your employees, here are some tips that will likely help you both preserve workforce productivity and realise positive returns:

Let your employees know you trust them   

There may be some risk of lost productivity in allowing your team to use social media during the workday, but you still need to trust that your employees will keep their priorities straight.

When opening the gates to social media at your firm, make it clear that you expect performance standards to be maintained – if not improved. Communicate big picture business objectives to your team by letting them know why the firm wants to make better use of social media. For example, you want to improve customer service, recruit new talent, or improve collaboration among employees.

Also, resist the temptation to over-monitor your employees; many will resent your implication that they can’t responsibly use social media – and their time at work.

Develop a social media policy   

Leading companies have written acceptable-use policies that outline what employees can and cannot do when using company equipment, such as computers and mobile phones. Many businesses today have adapted their policies to include specific rules about internet and social media use.

Work with your HR, legal and IT teams to develop a policy that is appropriate for your firm and an approach for communicating expectations to your staff. You may want to include the policy in your employee handbook, post it on your intranet, and even have a formal meeting to educate your team about the guidelines and invite them to offer feedback.

Lead by example    

As a manager, you can play a key role in setting the standard for social media use at your firm. Whether it’s blogging about accounting and finance issues on the corporate website, tweeting company news on Twitter, or interacting with potential recruits on Facebook, using Web 2.0 technologies in a variety of ways will underscore to your employees that management takes ‘getting social’ seriously.

Once you’ve started using social media throughout the firm, encourage employees to communicate how they’re benefitting from its use. And in the middle of the workday, if you notice an employee laughing at a YouTube video of a cat playing the piano, keep in mind that he or she is essentially taking the modern equivalent of a coffee break. Allowing your workers to be distracted occasionally by the fun aspects of social media will likely enhance their productivity – not hurt it.

Ashley Whipman is an Associate Director for Robert Half Management Resources, the UK’s premier provider of senior – level professionals on an interim basis. You can follow @RobertHalf on Twitter.

By Ashley Whipman

The Credit Control challenge

There are so many different types of Credit Controllers (CC) out there: some who I would describe as having the ‘complete package’, and others who are only at the tip of the iceberg.

The latter category might only have to deal with incoming and outgoing calls rather than having contact with their Customer Services and Sales departments. They might not have to deal with reports, allocations and general day-to-day requirements.

This might not be due to the fault of the individual Credit Controller, but more to do with the structure of the company whose directive does not allow the CC to become as involved as they would like to. Organisations might also have separate functions in place to deal with any issues that this type of CC would not cover.

If you are this sort of CC, you might not reach the required experience level to put on that all-important CV. You could be left at a disadvantage, depending on what the recruiter or employer is looking for.

The more hands-on you are with your accounts, the more knowledge you will attain. You will discover how efficient the client is at settling their invoices on time, whether they keep rigidly within the set credit terms, if they settle slightly outside of term or whether the chase is on early to let them know that you are there and what you expect of them.

If there is a query you are aware of and are dealing with, you do not have to wait for allocations to take place. The responsibility would fall to the individual CC, giving you instant knowledge of who has settled, how much and to which account.

The world of Credit Control can be highly stressful; anyone who has dipped their toe into CC or chosen this career will hopefully agree with me when I say that many, if not most people do not have an appreciation for just how hard this profession can be.

I fully acknowledge that a strong Sales team is prerequisite to any organisation, but it should also be acknowledged that CC has a huge role to play within every company (let’s not forget that cash is king).    The other day, a client commented to that Credit Controllers are unsung heroes. This is perhaps overly overdramatic, but at the same time we as a team have to deal with a subject that everyone would much rather avoid: yes, the sordid topic of coin.

We have to be persistent in our endeavours, attain settlement and ensure cash is continually being received by the company, and we have no choice but to make this happen. The many phone calls, emails, queries, reminders, statements, polite clients and not-so-polite clients, all lead us to one optimum goal: cash collection.

So the next time any Credit Controllers out there are not having the best of days, they should think of themselves as the unsung heroes of their company (superhero outfit is optional).

Caroline Simon has had a varied career as a Credit Controller and Manager and has worked for Barclays Bank, Western Union, and various organisations within the Fashion Industry. She is currently the Legal Credit Control Manager for Trinity Mirror Digital Recruitment.

Changing role of accountants within the banking and financial services sector

Today’s finance teams are far more integrated into the businesses they serve. In fact in many cases, the finance function has moved from a back-office reporting role to proactively leading the business through change; finding ways to eliminate costs and to improve business effectiveness. We have seen a trend towards dividing responsibility bolstered by the growth of business partnering roles, resulting in a shift where finance works directly with other functions. These roles require greater commercial and communication skills. We are now seeing a growing demand for accountants and other finance professionals who offer more than traditional technical skills.

Over the past few years, employers have changed their requirements when recruiting accounting and finance staff – they now ask for professionals with broader commercial competencies. It is clear that over the past five years, the role of an accountant has changed beyond recognition. Gone are the days of accountants sat in offices crunching numbers; instead, they have greater involvement in commercially-focused activities. As a result, today’s accountant is out and about, influencing his or her colleagues to achieve better business performance through greater understanding of finance. The general feeling is that the changing role of an accountant is no more evident than in the banking and financial services sector. There is now greater pressure on finance teams to add value and provide commercial guidance in plain English.

We have noticed that even though accountants are recognising their changing role and scope, they are more focussed, perhaps wrongly, on developing their technical and IT skills in order to take the next step in their career. Having said that, there are pockets where employees’ thinking is more in-line with their employers’, and they understand that commercial awareness is the most important area for development.

At a time when cost control is at the heart of any organisation’s agenda, it’s no surprise that employers are looking for accounting staff to play a bigger role and to align themselves more closely with the business. This has led to the emergence of an increasing number of business partnering roles within banking and financial services companies. They are not alone. Over the past ten years, HR has moved to a business partnering model, looking to add greater value to strategy and decision making. Is there an opportunity for the two professions to learn from each other?

As organisations apply pressure on their accounting and finance departments to add value, it’s no wonder that employers need their accountants to develop commercial awareness, strong communication abilities and leadership skills to take the next steps in their career. It might be controversial to some and even unpalatable for the accountancy bodies, but many employers and employees believe that the training through qualification for the role of a ‘modern accountant’ does not provide all of the skills required. Professional bodies recognise they must keep pace with the changing demands and expectations of the profession, while employers need to focus on helping accounting and finance staff embrace the new aspects of their roles. As the demand for more ‘fully-rounded’ accountants grows, the issue is to what extent professional bodies should seek to fill the gap, and to what extent is this is the responsibility of the employers and employees? Equally, does accounting as a profession have a reputation that is out of sync with reality, and therefore resulting in attracting individuals with the wrong mix of personal skills? Either way, we will continue to monitor and observe the changing role accountants are playing in the banking and financial services sector.

Jamie Carter has had over seven years’ recruitment experience within the London-based Banking and Financial Services sector, covering different disciplines including accounting and finance, operational risk, middle office and operations, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate finance. However, he is also a specialist accountancy and finance recruiter within the investment banking sector. Jamie joined Marks Sattin as a Senior Consultant in January 2010 and is currently part of the permanent recruitment team focusing on the banking and financial services sector.