Andrew Taylor has just settled into his new role as FD at Jumpstart, an R&D consultancy based in Edinburgh. It’s Taylor’s first appointment as an FD: before that the ICAS-qualified accountant worked as a financial controller at a hedge fund.
It’s a familiar trajectory for accountants in business: from FC to FD. The progression makes even more sense now, said Taylor, since the FC role has taken on a strategic element, too. “I was doing all sorts of things at [hedge fund] Dalmore. I spent a lot of time with the CFO in terms of strategy.”
The biggest difference, said Taylor, are the soft skills and relationships he’d been shielded from to an extent as FC, even if he did do some strategic tasks. The ICAEW’s head of business Simon Alsop sees members progress from FC to FD first hand.
“The transition isn’t just self-directed,” said Alsop, “It’s a matter of CPD, developing the nuanced skills you’ll need as an FD or CFO.
“FCs are always technically strong. It’s the most senior straight finance role, after all. So when we help people with their progression, we don’t spend as much time talking about tax, audit and technical matters.”
According to Alsop, stepping into the FD role has never been more challenging. Not just in terms of cost reduction and political uncertainty, as John Stokdyk noted elsewhere on AccountingWEB, but as a profession coming to terms with digital change.
The ICAEW’s FC conference, for instance, features breakout sessions focusing on all kinds of bleeding edge trends: AI and robotics, Big data and data analytics, blockchain. It’s a remarkably high-level focus, but one that Alsop said is necessary.
“The finance leader should be playing a big part in the strategy of the organisation and how they deliver operational excellence. One of the things we stress is around the skills they need to develop partnerships throughout the business. It’s difficult to move out of the blinkered approach of just focusing on the finance, to becoming the business leader.”
The operational excellence to which Alsop refers doesn’t exclusively mean high tech. Many finance leaders, like Richard Carter at Adnams, have led their businesses into becoming more environmentally sustainable.
It’s indicative of the deeper leadership requirements of the FD. As Michael Wilks, the finance manager of the Winnow Solutions, said, the financial leader “sets the tone for the entire business”.
In the first edition of ‘My key KPI’, the veteran CFO Tim Wakeford explained what makes an exceptional FD or CFO. “The question is: ‘How do I tell the story of my organisation?’” he said. It’s not just about crunching numbers, but using them to sketch a portrait of the company’s performance.
The FC role was “more pigeonholed”, said Jumpstart’s Taylor. “The role I have now, as FD of Jumpstart, is more free reign”. He's comfortable with the numbers, now it's about what he does with the information they give him.
About Francois Badenhorst
I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter.