Revealed: what top dogs do all day

Charles Christian offers an insight into the life of your average finance director
Like policemen, it seems finance directors are getting younger. This is just one finding of a recent survey conducted by Marketing Research Database (MRD) into the life and times of board- and non-board-level finance directors working for major UK corporates.

Of the sample, MRD found the average age of finance directors is 42 - an apparent trend for youthfulness reflected in the fact that the survey found no respondents over 60 years of age. Furthermore, although the average age on appointment is currently 36 years, it is clear this figure is falling, and financial managers are becoming directors sooner. Thus, while only 16 per cent of those now aged 40-50 were appointed at the age of 30 or under, among the younger, under-40 age group approximately one-third were already directors by 30 - and indeed nearly 20 per cent had made it at 28 or under.

Having said that, it would be wrong to think the world of financial management is in danger of being overrun by young turks, as the survey also found that nearly 40 per cent of the sample had spent more than 20 years - in effect, all their working lives - in financial management.

And not only do financial managers exhibit little tendency to change career, but they also seem reluctant to change company - 25 per cent had worked for only one company and nearly half for only two.

There again, perhaps this innate conservatism makes sense, since more than 57 per cent of finance directors had been promoted to their current position from within the company.

There are few surprises in terms of qualifications. Chartered accountancy is by far the main qualification, held by 56 per cent of respondents, which is nearly twice as many as the next most common qualification, management accountancy. Once again, however, an age differential is beginning to show, with a significantly higher incidence of chartered accountants among the over-forties, while the management accounting qualification is much more popular among the younger age group. Younger finance directors are also more likely to have an additional qualification, typically an MBA.

In terms of assistance with their work, the survey threw up some interesting findings. For example, many financial directors feel that they are not seeing benefits from their investments in information technology, with some 40 per cent of respondents saying IT has made no difference to the clarity of presentation of financial data, no impact on controlling costs and no effect on making financial data more relevant to decision- making.

When it comes to using outside professional advisers, both accountants and lawyers score relatively high in the satisfaction stakes, whereas stockbrokers are viewed in a more ambivalent light, with respondents almost equally split between those awarding negative and positive ratings. However, management consultants have the biggest image problem, with nearly 70 per cent of finance directors who have used them either expressing dissatisfaction or else having nothing positive to say about their services.

As to what finance directors find to fill their days ... approximately a quarter of their time is spent on strategic planning, some 17 per cent on crisis management and the remainder - just over half - is devoted to day-to-day management. Although two brave - some might say foolhardy - respondents admitted that survival was the only game for them.