Are FDs and CFOs being stretched too thin?

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CFOs and FDs are often tasked with extra roles in an organisation - but, as a recent Any Answers asked, where do you draw the line? 

As anyone with an email knows by now, GDPR has arrived. The slew of ‘please opt in’ emails have been filling up inboxes across the country.

Annoyances aside, the general data protection regulations are, of course, serious business. They have added significance for CFOs and FDs. Accountants in business are often tasked with taking the lead on data security. It’s an important task heaped onto an already full plate.

A recent Any Answers post exemplified the nervousness of taking on extra roles: “I have now been promoted to group FD,” wrote an anonymous Any Answers poster. “I love the role, it’s a great company and I’m glad I made the move

“However, I have been asked/told I will be the group data protection officer, which having researched this I feel unqualified to do so. I have explained my concerns informally to the MD who quickly dismissed these and said he was amazed I was doubting myself for such a trivial task.”

The MD’s assurances haven’t assuaged their doubts, “Am I being unreasonable? Could this be a threat to the ACCA fundamental principles?”

It’s not just a trend in the era of GDPR, the finance function has often been saddled with tasks beyond the ‘traditional’ tasks. As Glennzy wrote, “It comes with the role. As second in command these things will always land on your desk, if there is no one else to do them.

“In my FD days, I ended up as an immigration officer, HR, HSE, legal consultant, and IT consultant. I didn't know how to do it either, but had to learn as they would not pay for external consultants to come in and do it.”

According to Rick Payne, the head of the ICAEW’s finance direction programme, it’s very common. “It’s probably more common at SME level but it does happen at larger organisations as well. Particularly with not as many COOs out there who could pick up the slack.

“There are certain advantages to having those additional responsibilities for the organisation. If you’ve got a skilled person, a professional accountant adept at problem-solving, all of those functions are getting the benefit of those skills and leadership.”

For the individual FD or CFO, said Payne, there are also benefits. They get a broader knowledge and understanding of the business, examining the organisation from end to end. It makes strategic moves like automation and managing resources simpler.

“However,” Payne warned, “if as an FD you’re spread too thin, that can lead to issues. Where does the FD offer the most value to the organisation? If they’re taken off into other operational details, it can detract from their role.

“There are no hard and fast rules with taking on added responsibilities but it comes down to being a professional and being professionally competent enough to carry out the roles you’re being asked to undertake. Our guidance is to ensure you have the appropriate skills, that you’re honest about what you can and can’t do and that you complete the necessary professional development to get where you need to be.”

Jamie Lyon, the ACCA’s head of business management, agreed. “You’ll face ethical challenges and dilemmas over time in any task. It’s a matter of professional judgement and doesn’t need to be a threat to our principles at all.”

Both the ACCA and the ICAEW (or whatever organisation you’re a member of) will provide support on the ethical and technical queries. The ICAEW has a dedicated ethics helpline, for instance.

Ultimately, said the ACCA’s Lyon, the added responsibility isn’t a curse, it’s a positive for your career. “It’s a great opportunity for FDs and CFOs, otherwise you get relegated to just a custodian function. With tech and automation, as a savvy CFO, it’s about where can you offer value in the future.”

About Francois Badenhorst

Francois

I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter. 

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26th Apr 2018 10:55

It's all about keeping up with technology and the extra workload that comes with it. Yes it saves time somewhere but, because of the extra information it produces, will cause extra time elsewhere. Basically the grass isn't greener on the other side, just greener in different parts. Until we have the workforce that is flexible enough to handle this then we up the creek without a paddle.
So no surprise.

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26th Apr 2018 12:23

Most finance people don't like saying no so end up with all sorts dropped in their department because it doesn't fit precisely in any other department. I ended up leaving my FD job because I spent less than a quarter of my time dealing with finance that's my first love (sad I know...)

I'm now back as a financial controller but still getting haunted by new fads like GDPR and I'm sure once that has bedded in there will be something else that no one knows how to deal with so it lands in finance's lap...

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26th Apr 2018 12:47

"There are no hard and fast rules with taking on added responsibilities but it comes down to being a professional and being professionally competent enough to carry out the roles you’re being asked to undertake. "

As qualified accountants, we understand that. But trying saying "No" in a workplace.... these days there would be consequences to refusing the unallocated job to do.

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to FCExtraordinaire
26th Apr 2018 12:54

and yet other departments seem to manage this admirably - what are we doing wrong?

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By ASF
26th Apr 2018 13:01

Having worked in senior finance/commercial roles in both large-cap and SMEs I know the stresses and strains of both. I love SMEs - everything that gets done is done because you and your team achieve it; but there is no place to hide when things don't go to plan. I knew as I moved through exams and then my career that I wanted to go down the "grey" world of wider commerce and business, as opposed to the more technical world of areas such as corporate reporting. But, I do agree, there are days when we are all stepping outside our comfort zones - I try to limit mine to only 5 days a week! - but experience, professionalism, Google and resilience are all invaluable tools, no matter which "stream" we go down. Admitting to yourself and others sometimes, when you don't know everything, in my book, is a great strength, and not a weakness!

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27th Apr 2018 08:21

Accountants get the extra jobs because they tend to be versatile, disciplined, have great attention to detail and act in a professional manner whatever they are doing.

In practice this exposure to such a diverse range is how they are the trusted business advisor to business.

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01st May 2018 06:47

I loved the variety of work while in industry. In various roles I have had the following managers/teams reporting to me: finance (of course), quality (ISO9000 etc) and data protection, IT (including Y2K responsibility), reception, property maintenance, health and safety, environmental policy (ISO11000 etc), HR and others I can’t remember without checking my CV. Most of it consists of hiring good people and letting them get on with their job.

The role of a Finance Director is much more about strategy and running the company than debits and credits. As such it very different from the role of a management accountant and doesn’t suit everybody.

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