What does business expect from a financial team and its leader – a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)? Violetta Małek, a director of the Advisory Service Department at KPMG in Poland, answers this and other questions.
TURNING POINT (TP): What impact does the business environment have on the finance function and its operating model?
VIOLETTA MAŁEK (VM): Fundamental, if not critical. Recent years have brought about many changes – modern businesses function more often “on demand”; prefer “access” over “ownership”, “want” more for less and continuously “think” about full automatization in order to still be in the business tomorrow. In such a business model, the finance function may become both an engine and a navigator. It will no longer stand “close, observe and react”, as it was the case until now, and report the past, but it will actively build the future of its organization as a business partner.
TP: Then how to become both an engine and a navigator?
VM: You should build a modern operating model. Very often the operating model of the finance function works flawlessly – every element of the model is easy to use, operates at the highest possible speed and has the best manual solutions. Its shape is the result of solutions that have been built over the years, and which best support finance functions and managers. However such a traditional model will not become an engine and a navigator, since it does not understand the new language of business - and if still in use, it will be an expensive, time-consuming and often very limiting further development...
Today, and even more so tomorrow, you need a team of financial business partners who understand not only the strategic objectives of their organization, but also of their function.
Each element of the operating model is an opportunity to develop new skills, to use the potential of the team and of its individual members, identify competency gaps and foster such development in a team that will fill them. A team that will intelligently build its strong brand as a business partner, strengthening the process of building a competitive advantage of the organization.
TP: Does the change of the model give rise to additional costs?
VM: It may, but does not have to. The costs associated with maintaining the traditional model can also maintain the new model - and with the prospect of considerable savings. Let then the traditional model enter the history books and let’s start the transformation of the finance function.
TP: Transformation is a big word. What should we start with? What is most important?
TP: Talent? What about the other elements of the modern operating model?
VM: We start from and end up with talent. After the transformation, we maintain the highest standard of talent management, since it is one of the key factors of success in today’s world of business. In the modern operating model it is no longer sufficient to "match" the competence to the tasks, master accounting and financial system and possibly prepare for teamwork. Today, and even more so tomorrow, you need a team of financial business partners who understand not only the strategic objectives of their organization, but also of their function. These partners create intelligent data analytics tools and sets of financial information, cooperate in teams made up of representatives of different generations, and, finally, are aware of their part in building a competitive advantage of the company.
TP: Can we then shortly describe these six elements of the modern operating model in the context of talent management?
VM: Of course, but before I start let me assume one thing – the modern model is built by a modern CFO.
The first component of the model changes the role of the financial team from transaction processor to value creator. Narrowly specialized tasks performed in rigid organizational structure are complemented by the ability to "know the ins and outs” of business. Traditional processing of economic events, manual record keeping and focus on other basic tasks took financial teams approximately 50% of their time. Moving away from traditional solutions and constantly striving for standardization and optimization of processes is the second component of the model that departs from their incoherent, chaotic and very costly architecture. Effective architecture of processes is not possible without the third element of the modern model, which is technology with a central database, compatible systems and the "operating system" of end-to-end processes. Now that we have organized processes that are supported by efficient systems and technology, we can move on to the fourth element of the model, namely centralization and outsourcing. The modern model assumes that transactional processes are centralized in dedicated, specialized, shared services centres in-house or outsourced. Building the finance function in the new reality also means elimination of silo elements and achievement of a fully integrated organization. Such an organization, where there are standardised and optimised processes assisted by integrated systems supporting modern, value creating business model, will not work without a business partnership culture, which is the sixth element of the modern operating model of the finance function.
TP: Indeed, the model seems to be optimally designed. However, it is still difficult to understand why talent management is that important. For modern CFOs, is this still a matter of choice, or rather a must of the new economy?
VM: Both. Choice – because a modern CFO wants to create an intelligent finance function, and a must – because he wants to stay in the game. Each element of the operating model is an opportunity to develop new skills, to use the potential of the team and of its individual members, and identify gaps in competency and development in a team in order to complete them. A team that will intelligently build its strong brand as a business partner, strengthening the process of building a competitive advantage of the organization.
Violetta has over 20 years of experience in managing the finances and performance of companies, advising on creating and implementing cost optimisation programmes as well as carrying out restructuring and transformation processes. Violetta is responsible for carrying out projects to optimise business (implementing the value management philosophy), financial (lean finance), manufacturing (lean manufacturing), sales and operational processes. Violetta is a graduate of: Warsaw University of Technology Business School (a program shared with the London Business School, HEC in Paris and the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, EMBA), Warsaw School of Management and Marketing, University of Lodz, and Warwick Business School.