Transparency in the age of Twitter
KPMG’s quotable chairman got the biggest reaction at the CGMA launch event by challenging senior finance executives to understand and embrace social media. John Stokdyk reports.
As the CGMA launch event meandered into a backwater about the role of transparency in management accounting, KPMG UK chairman John Griffith-Jones popped up with one of the most quotable comments of the day.
“I see my children on Facebook and Twitter - maybe this is the way forward for transparency in the future,” he said. “Maybe as CEOs we have to resort to the internet to get out of the trap of what’s secret and what’s in the open.”
The idea came as something of a shock to Rolls-Royce finance director Roger Tomlinson, who in spite of his forward-looking support for the new accounting qualification still belonged to the accountant as data gatekeeper school.
“Information on customers needs to be understood properly,” he argued. “Sometimes the financial numbers are difficult to understand and a lot of thought has to go into that. A free-for-all on Facebook would create a lot of problems.”
Griffith-Jones pointed out that the people coming into accountancy are “much less hung up” about their own on the Net, and have a similarly relaxed attitude to corporate information.
“Our people are on Facebook all the time. If we do something, it’s on the internet in a second,” he said.
“I can’t control what I communicate. If I make a mistake it’s used to circulate around the building. Now the spreading of that information is faster by a thousand times.
“I think you need to be more relaxed about what you keep back. All I’m saying is understand how [social media] works and that this is how your business will work in the future.”
Another CGMA panellist, SAB Miller non-executive director Helen Weir was more open to the Griffith-Jones hypothesis: “Transparency is going to happen, like it or not. But how are businesses going to use that trend to communicate better?”
According to Linda Cheung, a management accountant who set up Cubesocial.com last year to help organisations make better use of social media, the comments from Griffith-Jones and Weir make good soundbites because they catch the spirit of the moment - even if the people who made them aren’t doing a lot with the tools themselves.
Cheung trained with KPMG herself, and remembers a much less technologically savvy organisation where the senior partner argued that email would never catch on.
“All those things are said about social media,” she said. “But I do believe it’ll be just another way to talk. It’s unfortunate that professionals still talk about how to police it because that shows they’re still in a fear cycle. You don’t really have policing policies on how to use mobile phone or write emails.
“If you’re not seeing the upside, you’re missing half the perspective. Why not see it as way to communicate - and that you need to be thoughtful about how to use it?”
For those professionals who do want to take advantage of tools, Cheung explains that Twitter is like a cocktail party, where you can join in conversations with people you haven’t met before, while Facebook is more of an invitation-only house party. LinkedIn, meanwhile, is your shopfront.
“Your presence should be cohesive. The LinkedIn page has to be good enough for someone to want to walk through the front door, and should contain other links to help them join the dots, for example to see the tone of your voice on Twitter or blogs.”
Once professionals can grasp the potential of the tools, they can be hugely valuable to the business, she continued. “With Twitter, if you’re if interesting, insightful and useful, you can join any conversation, with with anybody you don’t know. It’s exactly like any other event where you represent your firm. In real life, you wouldn’t have anyone accompanying you to a cocktail party. There’s a belief in how professional people are and how they represent their firm at all times in that capacity.”
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