Not too long ago I was having a conversation with one of our industry’s leading finance shared services gurus. When he started to muse about the ability of accountants to adopt to new delivery models, he became very animated. “ Accountants live for rules. Take them away and they are like fish out of water. They don’t adapt well to shared services.” “But shared services and outsourcing is pretty well entrenched in the finance and accounting world,” I retorted. “I don’t think it’s the accountants who matter in making the change.” he replied.
This exchange got me wondering whether he is right. After all, executive leadership is endorsing, even mandating the switch to shared services and outsourcing across the enterprise on occasion. Finance transformation leadership acknowledges sourcing is often the right approach. Business lines, albeit grudgingly, are complying with changes in workflow, delivery location and providers. So what’s the problem? With as many as 80 percent of the Fortune 500 adopting remote delivery models for their finance and accounting function, is change problematic for accounting professionals? And does it matter?
It may very well be that corporate accounting professionals themselves are not fully on board with shared services and outsourcing as a model, but their roles are changing so fast that it is inconsequential. Fundamentally, their traditional jobs have required them to eliminate ambiguity, comply with a myriad of regulation, hold tightly to the reins of control, and make sure all rules are followed. Yet shared services and outsourcing models change about every aspect of the context in which they work. Suddenly, the corporate finance manager is controlling the environment rather than controlling the actual finance processes he spent his career preparing for. He now peruses dashboards rather than drilling down into spreadsheets tracking every transaction, while the “real” accountants are sitting in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Manila or India, recording, reporting and analyzing.
And that can catch him unprepared. As controllership and process delivery moves offshore, the corporate accountant has to attain new capabilities fast. The new career path demands that he have deep domain skills in order to provide value to the business–the ability to link a myriad of corporate processes to continually change the business, the savvy to obtain insights from data in order to help the business turn on a dime, and the ability to make the calls on new technology in order to eliminate work. It’s a huge change for folks whose traditional value to the organization is ticking boxes on rules and regulation.
If the accountant wants to develop a career within direct sight of the CFO, he’d best learn the intricacies of M&A, or market analysis, or financial planning. Or if he decides that being in the bowels of process delivery is where he belongs, he’d best pick up the leadership skills—not the accountancy skills– required to govern, manage and deliver increasingly complicated shared services and outsourcing arrangements. Skills in controllership and process management alone just won’t cut it for those whose ambition is more than matching invoices.
Back to my finance accounting guru. Perhaps he’s right—it’s not the traditional accountants that are embracing change in the finance function, but those with deep business skills.