Finance: Creative accountancy holds key to success

Boring bean counters are bad for business.
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The Independent Culture
TO MANY people in business, the finance professional is the person who says "No". When all around are enthusiastic about expansion or a new business opportunity, it is the company accountant who runs his or her slide rule over the idea and plays "party pooper".

According to Brian Sommer, a partner with Anderson Consulting, this is largely because, more than 400 years after the development of double-entry book-keeping, accounting still attracts "people who love the fact that it's highly-prescribed and immovable".

But, as he told a conference on "the future of finance" earlier this month, such attitudes must be abandoned. "Business has fundamentally changed, the business market has changed. Therefore, finance must change. There's no option," he says.

Mr Sommer is not the only person singing this song. Other commentators might be a little more positive - arguing, for example, that top financial executives have already started to take on a strategic role at the right hand of chief executive. But the fact remains that finance must become more dynamic.

Mr Sommer agrees with Prabhu Guptara, director of organisational and executive development for UBS, and a fellow speaker at what is planned to be a series of conferences organised by the Tate Bramald Consultancy, that finance and information technology can no longer remain "islands" within a business. They must be integrated and staffed by people who combine financial or IT expertise with other skills.

It is perhaps most important that they are effective communicators, since it is vital that they get their messages across to their colleagues.

Professor Guptara says that not only will the individuals who cannot adapt in this way become redundant but that companies without enough highly flexible employees will go under. Mr Sommer believes that finance professionals recognise the problem but need help to solve it. Because what is required, he says, is "creativity" - "something that's in short supply" and "difficult for finance people".

What needs to happen, he says, is for accountants working in business to be transformed into consultants, so that they can use their analytical skills and financial expertise to help boost performance.

Information technology is a natural ally in this. After all, as Professor Guptara pointed out at the conference at London's Cafe Royal, it has played a powerful role in changing the boundaries of business both internally and externally. But, according to Mr Sommer, it is not being as effective as it might be because accounting software tends to be old fashioned.

In particular, such software is not "sensitised" to such increasingly important measures as Economic Value Added, one of many currently in-vogue indicators of how successful a company is in creating wealth for shareholders. The result is often mounds of information of limited use.

Mr Sommer is not optimistic that the situation will improve in the short term because IT specialists are distracted by the euro and the Millennium Bug problem.