Business Partnering Is the Gateway to Adding Value

An article in the digital edition of FM Financial Management, written by Jamie Roessner, points out that the role of management accountants has been evolving, but the pandemic expedited not the evolution but many of the related skills and emerging skills. According to Lori Sexton, CPA, CGMA, associate technical director, Research and Development–Management Accounting at AICPA & CIMA – together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants – "Digitalization certainly aided in the rapid expansion."

Budgeting, forecasting and reporting are still core skills of the profession, but management accountants can bring additional value by, for example, sharing insights about how an organization can digitally transform, manage risks, explore new business opportunities and initiate and monitor diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and sustainability matters.

The breadth of this expansion is shown in an AICPA & CIMA research paper, Future of Finance 2.0 Emerging Themes: The Changing Role and Mandate of Finance. Built upon interviews and roundtable discussions with finance leaders, academics and students from across the globe, the 18-month-long research study explores the newfound dynamism within the finance profession.

According to Roessner, “the naturally expanded role of management accountants demonstrates the profession's commitment to flexibility, agility, and relevancy in today's complex business landscape.”

Management accountants advise various functions — including human resources, governance and marketing — offering data-driven insights for how to redefine value, better serve internal clients, and discover new markets.

"Finance professionals have traditionally been the gatekeepers who safeguard assets and resources, and are mindful of risks," says Irena Teneva, DBA, associate technical director, Research and Development–Management Accounting at AICPA & CIMA, and co-author of the report. That risk-mitigating role is not fading away, she said.

"Business partnering is the gateway to adding value, which is what the future of the profession is about," Teneva explains. "To be a successful business partner, you need commercial acumen, thinking about what numbers mean for the future and how the business can grow, and also liaising with colleagues and partners to discuss and refine those ideas and make them workable." Finding the right balance of these skills and mindsets is key, she added.

Roessner notes that the level of reliance on communication and interpersonal skills has also changed. “Management accountants are now required to give a fuller picture of their numbers and reports, including through data visualization.”

And, says Sexton, these "multi-level, multi-situational, multi-audience conversations require specific communication skills and abilities all operating at the same time." Management accountants can still be relied upon for data and reports, but now they're tasked with telling complete and in-depth stories of both financial and nonfinancial data.

"I see this as a compass for the future," suggests Sexton. "When you are hiking and every so often check your compass to make sure you're going in the right direction, you don't know what exactly you're going to see, but you know you're headed towards something.

"[The Future of Finance 2.0] research cannot define, nor should it, a specific destination for the finance professional, but it provides a direction of what you'll need for the journey ahead," she adds, advising that the scope of wider changes within the profession are addressed in the Future of Finance 2.0 research program. “Explore the research and prepare for what's ahead.”