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Global Treasury

Finance Folks Need Soft Skills

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November 21, 2017

The most effective MNC finance organizations have soft skills and a good partnership with business.

Soft SkillsOne observation on recent trip to Asia by NeuGroup founder Joseph Neu was that when it comes to shared service centers, talent management is getting ever more important in the region. That’s because the talent level and experience required to scale finance support to fast-growing, transformational businesses in a highly-regulated market like China means that SSCs based there often set the global standard. Thus, the heads of China-based SSCs serve a very important role even if they are not the global head. “My SSC head is who really helps me sleep at night,” one CFO said at a meeting of NeuGroup’s Asia CFOs’ Peer Group (ACFO).

That comment underscores the importance of people in effective finance organizations and even more so in effective finance-business partnerships. Across NeuGroup meetings over the past several years, there has been increasing mention of giving treasurers and others training on the “soft skills” of business. For instance, in the Internal Auditors’ Peer Group, one member has been stressing that members of his department get better at these skills, including improving their communication, powers of persuasion, the ways in which they present, and in explaining “the weeds” when it comes to getting into the technical aspects of what they do; and also, how to stay out of those weeds, i.e., get better at "knowing your audience." 

One presentation at the ACFO meeting that highlighted a multi-year effort to integrate finance with the business, the presenting CFO emphasized the importance of changing the finance team mindset to join it with the business team’s approach, and of holding both teams accountable to the same objectives. He described a recent effort to join finance with business leaders to improve margins and other profit growth objectives that includes a “profit board” governance structure and leadership team to oversee strategy creation, planning and implementation, plus manage subsequent iterations of the project.

As more finance and shared service organizations fully embrace digitalization, it is ever more important to train human talent “to get better at what humans do as machines learn to get better at what machines do,” according to another ACFO member. Subsequent discussion on the topic showed multiple firms engaged in training aimed at changing the culture of their finance teams by changing the behaviors and habits of their people.

Another CFO at the meeting described bringing in performing artists to speak to his team to convey “the experience of speaking on a big stage.” These skills are what become more important “if finance is going to work effectively with business people who are not thinking in terms of debits and credits.”

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