Accounting is all about people. That statement might come as a surprise to many, particularly those who see accounting as a mechanistic function carried out in the back office – ideally with minimal contact with the rest of the organisation. However, today’s reality is very different.
The central role of the finance department to an organisation’s success has developed over the years. Like HR, finance is a small division that permeates an entire organisation. It is also recognised as a function whose performance relies on people, so recruiting, retaining and developing top finance talent is vital to maintaining and building its profile.
The finance department’s drive to partner and sometimes lead the business brings with it the need both for new skills and the improvement of existing ones.
Severe talent shortages, the fast-changing regulatory landscape, the changing role of the accounting professional and mandatory continuing professional development are also contributing to an increase of, on average, 47% in the investment of learning and development for accounting professionals.
This should create the platform for a common agenda and shared objectives for finance and HR, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
This increase in investment and a greater importance being attached to learning and development has meant that the finance function is much more interested in how its accounting professionals are developed than ever before.
In a survey by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, 40% of organisations said the finance department was responsible for setting training and development policy, with HR doing likewise at 17%. This has the potential to provoke tensions and turf wars, as it could be perceived as encroaching on HR’s area of expertise.
However, we found that in 22% of organisations, policy was set collaboratively. This collaborative approach is much more successful, as it builds on the strength of both functions.
It is quite common for the business function to hold its own budget. This is no different for finance – we found that finance set its own learning and development budgets in 37% of all organisations surveyed, while for HR it was only 13%.
So it isn’t surprising that finance appears to have the final say in policy setting, leaving HR with a less strategic implementation role. Perhaps what we need to see is a far more collaborative approach.
The question remains whether people issues should be the sole domain of HR.
When looked at historically and objectively, the recruitment, retention and development of people has never been the sole domain of HR. Traditionally, the different business functions have tended to set the agenda and then looked to HR for support.
We are now seeing the inexorable growth of the HR business partner as part of a move to bring expertise into the business functions and engender a more collaborative approach.
We are looking to better educate and support accounting professionals on people management responsibilities, with guidance materials on subjects including performance management, recruitment, retention and motivation. This will provide them with a good platform for engaging with colleagues in HR.
HR professionals may likewise benefit from a better understanding of the world of finance and the role and needs of the finance professional. This would help develop a common agenda, a common language, and may even persuade accountants to share decisions about how their budgets are spent.