Finance specialists weather outsourcing, infotech blues

Written by Sajan C Kumar | Chennai | Updated: Nov 8 2009, 04:15am hrs
Notwithstanding the widespread reach of information technology and the increasing trend of outsourcing work, finance specialists are still vital to organisations, according to a research paper Finance transformation: the evolution to value creation by Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).

According to the report, when it comes to recruiting finance professionals, both in India and around the world, a professional finance qualification is preferred over general postgraduate business qualifications.

In India, 74% of the respondents say their finance functions need to change further to maximise contribution. Despite the continued survival of finance as a distinct function, collaboration and business partnerships are gaining acceptance globally: finance functions increasingly want to focus on value creation, and in doing so, balance their traditional focus on cost efficiencies. This shift is often being achieved with professionals working both as business advisors and partners to better support the organisation through cross-functional projects and practices. The trend points to an evolution in the way finance and its professionals have seen their roles changing over the past decade.

Changes in finance functions in Indian organisations over the last 10 years have centered more on business process reengineering and increased product focus than in other countries and somewhat less on other internal processes and cost reduction than elsewhere. Both finance professionals and their non-finance management colleagues see the value of maintaining the finance function and professionals as independent; both share concerns that a fuller integration could compromise their objectivity and their capacity to uphold standards.

Currently, a majority of Indian finance specialists, over 53%, either support other operating units in their organisation or directly work within other business units, thus highlighting the focus in collaboration and support. The remaining professionals cover general finance, accounting roles or specialist areas such as tax. Senior managements plan to continue recruiting finance-qualified, rather than general business candidates. However, accountants must acknowledge that finance is increasingly becoming a customer-facing function with growing emphasis on value creation and an increased need for general management skills and commercial acumen and those who do not adapt to this change may be the first casualties.

Robert Jelly, CIMA, says, It is significant that international businesses are looking for a new breed of finance professionals. Yet, in the current climate they still recognise the need for finance professionals to maintain their independence. We need to ensure, through top quality training, that finance in India and around the world is equipped to provide value-creating skills, while at the same time maintaining the ethical capacity to oversee corporate governance. When it comes to recruiting for finance, post-graduate business degrees are rated beneath professional qualifications.

David Powell, AstraZeneca, chair of the CIMA Centre of Excellence at the University of Bath School of Management, says, If the profession of finance could be said to have a global strategy, then over the past decade it has been to simplify and reduce the cost of transaction processing and to reinvest the savings in value-creating business partnering. Like any good strategy, it is important to have a feedback loop and this innovative research programme provides organisations with an opportunity to assess where they stand.