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Shared services, a unique opportunity to broaden business capabilities

By Orin Gordon head of ACCA Caribbean Thursday, February 16 2017

There are a number of finance professionals now working in shared services units across the world. This figure is set to rise; great news for this finance capacity but it also highlights that challenges lie ahead for future finances talent.

Historically, finance shared services leadership roles have been perceived in some organisations as career limiting for anyone that aspires to become a CFO. But the traditional path to becoming a CFO is no longer attractive to most finance professionals so shared services leaders, building upon a strong grounding in finance, now have increasing career options.

ACCA surveyed over 260 shared service leaders to gain their insights about what attracts them to a finance role in shared services or in a more encompassing Global Business Services (GBS) model. With over 44% of respondents saying that it is becoming more attractive to work in shared services or GBS organisations, and high levels of satisfaction voiced by the interviewees, it is apparent that shared services models diversify career options for finance professionals around the world.

ACCA’s research uncovered six observations about shared services: 1. Shared services roles are increasingly seen as an attractive career choice: For many finance professionals, a move to shared services is an opportunity, not a mandatory rotation or a requirement before moving on to desirable retained finance roles. More than half of survey respondents see potential for a long-term career as the function matures, gains scope, and becomes a critical component of best-practice service delivery.

2. More than half plan to follow a shared services career path: Perhaps the commitment to a shared services career pathway is due to the growing maturity of the model, the increasing influence of shared services and GBS, or perhaps our respondents and interviewees have found a high level of career satisfaction in their capacity as leaders. In any event, our findings confirm that finance leaders electing to pursue shared services careers are challenged and engaged by the variety these roles offer, and are not necessarily looking for a path out.

3. The skills required for success in a shared services leadership role generally start — but do not end — with finance: Leaders for the most part acknowledge that command of the subject matter is critical to shared services leadership, but that finance mastery alone is insufficient. Broader business and particularly soft skills such as influencing, communicating, change management and a keen sense of the customer are of paramount importance.

4. Influence of shared services/GBS in large organisations is slowly increasing: Both our survey data, and our interviewee’s opinions suggest that shared services, and their leaders, are slowly growing in stature in their organisations, getting closer to the top table when it comes to shared services being seen as a strategic imperative and a real creator of business value, and by association, their leaders.

5. Yet the finance shared services model is sometimes still perceived as a ‘transaction factory’ to the organisation: While shared service respondents and interviewees are bullish about their career opportunities and the business value they create for the enterprise, they still believe that their retained team colleagues and the business do not always understand the concept or the value of shared services.

6. Technology as the main purview of the finance shared services organisation may change the game: Respondents see the role of finance shared services as that of innovation and believe that the application of technology, namely automation is the natural purview of shared services operations charged with continually improving processes and create efficiencies. More than half of the respondents plan to follow a shared services career path as they find themselves challenged and engaged by the variety of roles on offer. A move to shared services is seen as an opportunity as the function matures, gains scope, and becomes a critical component of best practice services delivery.

The findings suggest that taking up a role in finance shared services is no longer viewed as career limiting, but rather a unique opportunity to broaden the capabilities and soft skills increasingly sought by the business.

There are indications that both finance and the enterprise are starting to value careers or rotations in shared services, given the growing influence that the respondents say that their operations are attaining in their organisations.

Yet some believe this cannot be fully achieved until organisations demonstrably nurture and export well-rounded finance (and business) talent.

However, organisations that have not yet fully institutionalised and accepted careers in or through finance shared services as critical creators of business value are lagging behind the trend.

Ultimately shared services models are here to stay as a vital component of the finance function. Their leaders embrace and harness change, demonstrate strong business acumen, and are passionate about transforming the way finance operates. And that’s a great way to ensuring success in any organisation.

Additional notes The full report entitled: Finance shared services careers: opportunity or end game? can be found here: http://www.accaglobal.com/uk/ en/technical-activities/technical-resourcessearch/ 2017/february/finance-shared-servicesopportunity- or-end-game.html

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