By: Cherry Birch On: December 3, 2019

I have been reading a great booklet published last year by my institute on Communication Skills and I loved one of the quotes it contained.

“The spreadsheet gives us dots, but we always need to join them into a picture and apply some paint”.

Mike Sergeant, a former BBC correspondent and founder of Sergeant Leadership Communications.

What a great analogy! At Financial Training Australia, we are engaged by our clients to demystify financial concepts and terminology and one of the skills which we need to have is that of being able to make the complex simple! It is so easy, after years of study, to assume that other senior people, outside the Finance function, understand all these concepts….. I know I did!

It was not until I was a finance tutor at a UK Management Development Centre that I had my ‘Aha’ moment! Soon after joining the management development centre, I was asked to run a half day session entitled ‘Strategic Finance’ on our most senior course – The Senior Executive Program. My colleague instructed me to just go through the Balance Sheet, P & L and Cash Flow explaining each. I challenged this since I thought that I was in danger of being laughed out of the room. Anyway, I did as instructed. At the end of the session, one of the participants came up to me and said “That was fantastic! Do you know that was the first time I have understood it? Do you find this is often the case?” OK I am not proud, I lied!

I guess up until that point, I had been in private practice and during my years of auditing really only interacted with the finance function at clients. Years later, I have seen this played out time and time again, whereby very senior people, often in charge of million dollar budgets, do not understand finance basics. ( It is often as basic as not understanding the difference between cash and accrual accounting.)

If the finance profession is to be successful in business partnering roles, we must have the ability to make the complex simple. We all know that, in this world of automation and the ever-increasing adoption of AI, more value will be placed on how professionals communicate, present and interpret – after all there will be no transactional accounting roles – they will be totally automated.

What I find especially worrying is that I get a sense that school leavers are attracted to roles in accounting and finance because they have strong analytical skills and are very happy behind a laptop!  Unfortunately this will not be enough – they need to be able to join the dots and apply some paint!