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New skills for an evolving profession.

In a job market defined by uncertainty, there seem to be at least three certainties about accounting and financial professionals: There aren't enough of them. Their roles are changing--up and down the chain of command. And many aren't keeping up with the evolving demands.

The corporate finance professionals who climb the value chain will be interpreters and collaborators, able to leverage data as a strategic asset while working across functions to solve problems and innovate. As the volume of information increases, they will play a critical role in determining the integrity of information and analyzing it--skills that can lead to new revenue streams, affecting the bottom line.


"Information is the new currency," Priyan Fernando, executive vice president of Global Business Services at American Express, said during a panel discussion in May about changes in the profession. "We have a perspective that not many people have," he said, and that should help secure CGMAs a place at the table in the innovation process.

"People who can look beyond their silo across processes," he added, "can be extremely useful to the organization."

That shift can be seen at Under Armour Inc., an athletic apparel clothing company, where finance professionals are becoming more closely integrated with business units. "Collaboration is key," said Brad Dickerson, the company's CFO. "The days of accountants or financial people sitting at a computer and sitting at their desk all day are long, long gone."

The demands on finance to play a more strategic role are also changing the required competencies and, in some cases, pushing accountants to move beyond their comfort zone. Those who want to move into leadership roles need to be able to cope with and manage through the gray "because there's so much gray in business," Dickerson said.


And it's clear there's work to do. Executives increasingly are reporting difficulty finding qualified accounting and finance professionals.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S, CFOs found it challenging to find skilled ac counting and finance professionals, according to a third-quarter forecast conducted by staffing firm Robert Hall. That's up seven percentage points from the survey covering the previous quarter.

Employers might need to hire candidates who are strong in some areas and then help them develop the weak areas once they are on board, said Ryan Sutton, senior vice president for the New England district of Robert Hall.

"Obviously, we all would like to pick up the free agents who can come in and hit the ground running," he said. "If you're not able to do that ... at some point you need to drop back and really come up with a development program."

On the flip side, accounting and finance professionals who are struggling to find a job can improve their prospects by sharpening the skills that employers want--specifically business-systems skills. "That really is the one thing that differentiates the top candidates from the medium candidates, is the business-systems savvy," Sutton said.


Midlevel finance professionals aren't the only ones dealing with role changes. As the role of the CFO becomes more involved in setting strategy, finance chiefs have to develop new skills.

CFOs are increasingly being asked to develop strategy in existing and emerging markets while managing demands of the finance function role, according to Ernst & Young, which has been researching changes to the CFO role.

CFOs also are increasingly pressured to become better communicators. They are challenged by the need to spell out complex issues to a variety of audiences--investors, financial analysts, customers, partners, and employees--as those stakeholders demand accurate information and transparency in real time.

"The next generation of CFOs must possess a vastly broader set of skills than its predecessor," Myles Corson, markets leader for the Financial Accounting Advisory Services practice at Ernst & Young, said in a statement. "Finance skills remain fundamental, but other key developmental areas for aspiring finance leaders now include experience in corporate development and strategic M&A, in international markets, and in the commercial side of the business."

For more, see the following CGMA Magazine articles at

* "Are You an Accountant or a Problem-Solver?"

* "CFOs Report Difficulty Finding Accounting and Finance Talent,"

* "As Role Evolves, CFOs Must Brush Up on Communication Skills and Strategic Thinking,"

--Jack Hagel, editorial director

CGMA Magazine
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Author:Hagel, Jack
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Aug 1, 2012
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