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Survey: CFOs seek greater skills for managing financial risk

Roy Harris | June 24, 2011
Performance management, enhanced nonfinancial and statistical reporting place second and third in Protiviti study.

The role of the corporate finance department is moving more deeply into the areas of financial risk management, performance management, and enhanced nonfinancial and statistical reporting, according to new survey titled the "Finance Capabilities and Needs Survey." That is in addition to the better-understood missions that involved dealing with numerous changes in accounting regulations.

The 19-page study, by consulting and audit firm Protiviti, a unit of Robert Half International, suggests that the executives see a need to improve their skills and knowledge in those areas as the role of corporate finance continues to expand. The survey was conducted online and in person with nearly 200 CFOs, controllers, or vice presidents or directors of finance. They were asked to assess their skills and professional development priorities in more than 100 questions divided into the categories of process capabilities, technical capabilities and organizational capabilities.

The global financial crisis was raised as a factor driving change throughout the survey, Protiviti said, especially in answers related to process capabilities, a category that included financial transactions. Respondents said they believed financial risk management was the area where improvement was most needed, "a strong indicator that financial executives are working to ensure that they and their organizations are not caught off guard by events or financial risks they face in their day-to-day operations and activities," the consulting and audit firm said. After financial risk management came foreign taxes and tax planning as the second and third-most areas in need of improvement, in the view of the executives in the survey.

Protiviti noted these findings, as well:

* International Financial Reporting Standards was the area in need of most improvement priority among technical capabilities. Others of the top five technical-capabilities categories citied were Extensible Business Reporting Language, readiness for adopting new and pending accounting rules, and fair value accounting and reporting uncertainties to the IRS. The last two items were tied for fourth in the survey.
* Organizational capabilities were rated higher by respondents than skills in other survey categories, although they still see room for improvement. Contacts and networking, negotiation and dealing with confrontation were listed as top areas for improvement. The recent signes of economic improvement have made recruiting and retention higher priorities in finance, too.
* In terms of process capabilities, the requirement for finance to lead growth and profitability efforts has emphasized increased skills in developing use of key performance, in operational and productivity reporting, in controls reporting, and in project management or other statistical reporting.

"Finance professionals face a new reality -- one in which they're responsible for helping their organizations operate more efficiently and profitably and move them into growth mode despite a complex regulatory environment and an uncertain economy," said James Pajakowski, Protiviti's executive vice president of global risk solutions. "Protiviti conducted the survey at this "Finance executives are keenly aware that they must be ready to address and adapt to a broad range of recent and pending changes -- from accounting standards to health care mandates," according to James Pajakowski, Protiviti executive vice president for global risk solutions. "The big challenge is that many of these changes are evolving quickly, which means that finance executives have to be more nimble than ever before to address them effectively."

He said the survey comes at a "critical moment for finance leaders because we believe that measuring capabilities can provide insight into what an organization does efficiently and effectively as well as areas that might be less profitable than they should be."

Finance will be deeply involved, of course, in the convergence of U.S. GAAP accounting principles and IFRS move forward, and pending final SEC rulings, "to ensure that the integrity of financial reporting processes stays intact," Pajakowski added in a press release accompanying the survey. "To fulfill this role, they need to understand the new accounting requirements and their application. This will not be easy when process owners are undergoing the same learning curve."


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