THE FD’S POSITION can be a lonely one in many organisations, and the nature of the role can be isolating. It is usual for the FD to be dealing with any number of weighty matters, and it is not easy to fully understand the context, consequences and technical nature of all of them. None of us yet knows everything about everything, so we need to find advice and compare notes. Those with whom we might choose to discuss certain matters each come with agendas, baggage or lack of a full understanding. Many come with all three.
Although I believe in active communication, I am occasionally faced with issues that I am reluctant to discuss with colleagues for fear of causing anxiety, and they tend to demand perfect information where that is not possible. Certain issues are, of necessity, confidential and cannot be discussed with less senior colleagues. Some issues are best resolved before raising them with auditors, brokers, advisors, stakeholders, board members and the chairman – because each tends to adopt a specific and sometimes narrow perspective.
Although it may appear to be an unaffordable use of time and money, and it may cause an unreasonably bad impression among colleagues, it is essential for FDs to go out and meet other like-minded FDs face to face.
I have always pursued relationships with other FDs through conferences and other professional and social events. Chatham House rules apply, so I am not about to list any of the horrors that have been revealed to me by fellow FDs. That is except the one about an unnamed private company whose board of 20 people was so heavily populated by employees, family members and divorced ex-family members that nothing at all was ever decided, and the nugatory workload in supporting 12 pointless and lengthy board meetings per year became overwhelming. That FD made all my frustrations and dilemmas seem like little ones.
Large organisations have the luxury of arranging opportunities for formal and informal dialogue between fellow subsidiary FDs, but the CFOs at the top of the finance function have no choice but to take personal charge of developing their own networks in order to stand any chance.
Recruiters, publishers, banks, accountancy practices and other organisations run events for FDs, and I have found many of these to be interesting opportunities to network and exchange views with the only community that appreciates what being an FD is all about. Many people whom I have met in these situations have become firm friends and comrades in arms.
None of this activity has much to do with staying up to date or seeking advice on technical matters – it is more important than that. I am constantly impressed by the tenacity and dedication of those FDs who work hard to maintain their technical knowledge, and who are a credit to our profession, but they are slightly missing an important point.
Not interacting with other FDs, in my view, causes insular thinking, a loss of the sharp edge expected of the FD by colleagues and, most seriously, a lagging behind the curve of the rapidly evolving role. This is a huge topic in itself. Some FDs I meet reflect nostalgically upon when they used to spend more time focusing on the accounts, now a minor sideline, given the increasingly wide variety of their roles.
We have all heard jokes about accountants being shy and introverted, with few friends, no personality, and the need to go out more. Some of the newer generation of accountants find social media a substitute for the real thing. However, I have found the FDs I meet at events to be the absolute opposite of this caricature, and some of them tell really good jokes about those who joke about us. Come and join in. ?