A model for change

December 2020

New CIMA President explains what responsible financial leadership is and why it’s so important in the current economy.

What a year to be taking on the CIMA presidency. The coronavirus pandemic turned the world as we knew it upside down. This is probably not the column I would have written in January against a more ‘familiar’ backdrop of economic uncertainty and Brexit.

Following my election as CIMA president in June it struck me that my presidential platform for the year, promoting ‘responsible financial leadership’, was unexpectedly timely. Covid-19 has highlighted why our profession needs to reimagine how it operates; and presents a great opportunity to drive a positive impact on our environment and wider society.

So what is responsible financial leadership? Let me start with what it is NOT:

• It’s not about hitting a target for one day each financial quarter.

• It doesn’t prioritise one set of stakeholders over all others.

• It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

What is it then?

• It’s a partnership between all stakeholders. One which recognises the impact a business has on its wider environment.

• It’s a way to build a resilient, long-term focused business that can absorb shocks.

• And it is about trust.

Good leadership is vital. Now is the right time for financial professionals, at all stages in their career, to use this blueprint to drive positive change and sustainable business growth. It is a time when a new way of doing things could be the difference between a business surviving or failing.

We are living in a battered business environment full of uncertainty, and the global economy has an enormous task ahead to get back on its feet. Now is the perfect moment for management accountants, as business advisers, to shine and establish our reputation as value creators for the long-term, challenging the perception of being the high-priests of cost-squeezing.

I think we can improve the ways finance operates while building in something extra – our values.

Whether it’s ensuring our hiring algorithms are as bias-free as possible to ensure our company better reflects the society in which it operates, or scrupulously following data laws, organisations should use this phase to really think about the type of company they want to be seen as and start consciously putting values into these new systems. Perhaps ask your employers about revisiting (or even creating) the company’s values statement, building something which works for the new landscape.

And if you are a member of Gen Z, this may well chime with what you already think. Research tells us that unlike Millennials, members of Gen Z, are much more interested in employers being good global citizens. Deloitte found that to win the hearts and attention of Gen Z, companies and employers will need to not just highlight their values but truly live them. Saying one thing while you do another will no longer cut it. To Gen Z, an organisation’s values and ethics have become make-or-break characteristics. Perhaps you recognise yourself in this description?

Although we will never be able to predict all potential ‘shocks’, planning for the long-term should lead to better organisational capabilities.

Sustainability makes good business sense because customers are more willing to engage with companies they see as environmentally and socially responsible. And socially diverse organisations are strong businesses. It is, therefore, in the best interests of organisations now and in the future to start implementing a new way of thinking.

I hope you will join me and help make responsible financial leadership the catalyst for change and a better future.

It’s going to be an interesting journey.

• Nick Jackson, FCMA, CGMA is President of CIMA.