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A photo of the Accounting Excellence Awards at the Roundhouse in London | AccountingWEB
Accounting Excellence

FDs evolve into tech-savvy strategic leaders

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Finance directors are shifting from traditional roles to strategic leaders, leveraging automation to drive growth and transform businesses, explains Accounting Excellence judge Christopher Argent. 

5th Jun 2024
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The role of the finance director (FD) is evolving from a transactional role to that of a transformational leader. 

Driven by the adoption of technology, FDs are shifting away from being seen just as the controller of the budgets and getting invoices paid on time to being someone who supports growth within an organisation. This is a natural progression for finance, who are known for their influence over other departments in the business. 

Becky Glover received the Finance Director of the Year award, sponsored by iplicit, at the 2023 Accounting Excellence Awards for demonstrating these skills. Speaking recently to AccountingWEB, Glover described this movement as going beyond the numbers and impacting “the wider business” and making “a positive impact on the world that we live in”.

Christopher ArgentAccounting Excellence judge Christopher Argent (pictured left) has closely followed this evolution. As the founder of the Generation CFO Community, he closely saw the generational shift within the business finance function and how analytics, automation and agility are now at the heart of the business. 

Ahead of the deadline for the Accounting Excellence Awards on 14 June, we caught up with Argent to find out the unique challenges and aspirations facing finance directors. 

What are some of the current trends shaping the world for FDs?

The need for finance directors to provide “value-add” gets thrown around quite a lot, but what it means to me is the huge opportunity for FDs to step away from their traditionally transaction-focused finance-function role. 

Through automation, they are then free to become the second in command in their business and focus on how they create growth and make an impact. 

It’s quite the fundamental shift when you see it in action. This isn’t just getting up from your desk every now and again and saying, “You’re over budget” and slapping wrists. That conversation is being automated, enabling FDs to pick up the business conversations. 

It’s like they’ve become the co-pilot to the CEO

I actually think we’re much more than a co-pilot. I think we can own our own space when it comes to digital transformation, business transformation and creating value in the business. 

That will not be the same focus as your CEO or your business leads, who are already busy in the field doing their own jobs. 

Where finance directors can add value is as a transformational leader within the organisation. The trouble is that if you ask most CEOs and business leaders what they want from their FD, they’ll say they want their invoices paid on time or their payroll to always be right. 

We have to move people away from that conversation. We are tech-savvy strategists, who are able to support the growth of an organisation. We’re not just bean counters. 

The AI boom is making it easier for people to understand where the potential lies for finance people. If you want to transform your business you either have finance lead the project or IT. However, failure happens when FDs are removed from the transformation. 

You want finance leading the project because they are the ones who are business-focused, who are aligned to the business stakeholders through their finance business partnering efforts, and they’re the ones who can make that change. Whereas IT will see the transformation as just a systems-implementation project. 

What are some of the challenges FDs are facing? 

Managing people remotely is one of the biggest challenges. People have got into this wonderful world of flexibility and remote working, but their screen times are up, their office time is down, and they’re less likely to have time for development. 

When you have that 70/20/10 approach to learning and development in a team (70% is on the job, 20% is mentoring and coaching, and 10% is classroom training), people are now missing that 70% on-the-job training because they’re not seeing their boss in action. They don’t hear the conversations and learn by osmosis. That’s massively impacting management at the moment.  

I think the people who are working from home don’t realise how removed they are from the business. Over time people will not know how to work anymore, how to be in the office or act as part of a team. So I understand why there are initiatives to get people back to work.  

What does excellence look like as an FD? 

Excellence, from a progressive leadership point of view, is actually not doing the traditional part of the job. If people are looking at you and only seeing your role as someone who receives money, pays money, manages money, manages and plans the budget, then that’s table stakes. What about the business relationships? What about communication and storytelling? What about technology and digital transformation? 

I think most people accept that we need to be better communicators and storytellers as finance people to influence the business, but what is it that you’re talking about to influence someone? You’ve got to come with a progressive mindset, a lot of which boils down to process improvement, technology and use of data, which is what finance has been good at for ever. 

What tips would you give an entrant to the FD of Year category at the Accounting Excellence Awards? 

Structure your application. Explain the context, then the project, then the actions, and then the result. It’s all well and good talking about what you did, but more important than that is the impact.

I was so pleased to see applications on our digital finance function awards. Where people had said: “We did this and we failed.” It’s actually quite refreshing to see that because sometimes, you know, you learn more from your mistakes. Rather than just saying, “We got it right the first time, even though we threw loads of money at it.”

What does it mean to win an Accounting Excellence Award? 

I think it means everything to be recognised for your work. Being recognised by your peers is a huge motivational boost. It’s like, not only have I done a good job, but actually the whole profession thinks I’ve done a good job – and that motivation lingers. It might just take an hour meeting with your team to decide what the application is going to be, but that one hour effort could last three months if you win and a similar amount if you’re shortlisted. You have to be in it to win it.

Are you a transformational force in your organisation? Enter the Accounting Excellence Awards and you could win the prestigious finance director of the year award.

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