Conversation with a QBE Head of Finance

I’m a huge advocate of QBE candidates and what they can bring to a role. Just recently I placed a Head of Finance in what should have been a qualified post. My client was so impressed with the quality of their work, they have since extended their contract.

It’s so reassuring to see more Directors of Finance and CFOs open to hiring QBE Accountants, but I’m keen to share this Q&A with the Head of Finance, to further highlight the numerous benefits and their journey, towards becoming QBE:

(1) How did you build your skills being Qualified by Experience (QBE)

I’ve built my finance management and accounting knowledge by getting support from the chartered accountants that I work with in my roles as finance manager. Many people that I work with find their audit and accountant partners hard to talk to and difficult to understand. They find the ‘accountancy speak’ intimidating so their eyes glaze over when the auditor is talking about the accounting and audit for their organisation. They just want the audit to completed without having to engage in it too deeply. However I take the time to listen to them and ask them to explain something when it’s unclear. I have always found that all accountants and audit partners are more than happy to give me as much time as I ask. They are an incredibly useful source of support and are happy to offer their expertise when you show that you value their input.

(2) What are the common misconceptions of someone who is QBE vs Qualified?

It seems that employers often want a qualified accountant to perform the finance function within their organisation. I think the misconception here is that you need to have this particular knowledge in-house. In my experience as a QBE finance manager for two successful organisations, it’s very easy to get this support and expertise from the external audit/accounting partner. Over the years my experience working alongside these external partners means I’ve learned what I need to be able to perform most of the finance functions; and when I don’t know a particular piece of law or an updated regulation, I simply pick up the phone and ask our accounting partner.

(3) What are some the advantages to hiring a QBE Accountant over someone who is Qualified?

When I was recruited to my current role at this £1.3million arts charity, I was told that I stood out from the other candidates at the recruiting process because of my communication skills. The other candidates were all qualified accountants but none of them had very strong people skills. I am able to connect more easily with my colleagues. I am often told that I’m able to explain things in a way that accountants can’t because I don’t speak entirely in accounting jargon. I provide a bridge between our external accounting partners and my organisations: I take time to get the auditors to explain things to me, and then I translate those concepts to my colleagues in the team, the senior management team and the board. My current colleagues at this interim role I’m holding, have told me my communication skills make it easier for them to understand the finances and engage more.

(4) Which skills and responsibilities can you bring to the table that are equal to that of a Qualified Accountant?

At the arts charity, I manage all finance functions and have overseen a period of financial success and stability with four consecutive years of surplus, steady growth in reserves and turnover rising to £1.3 million. I report directly to the board of trustees and oversee a budget that features restricted grant funders from over thirty funders that support around ten different programmes of activities. I provide leadership on financial matters within the senior management team at both my current employers and set the agenda at quarterly finance board meetings. We have a limited amount of time with our board, and I’ve learned that it’s important to isolate and focus on a distinct and small number of key decisions that need to be taken. It has been a challenging fundraising environment in recent years, and I’ve devised a strategy at each quarter that means expenditure decisions are taken quickly if a fundraising application is declined. This ensures our twelve-month free reserves trajectory does not fall below a critical level. There are always challenges with this when other members of the senior management disagree, with some wanting to take more risks, but I’ve held my position and the reserves are safe. The board are happy with this approach.

 (5) Do you have any advice to share with other QBE Accountants who are looking for a new role? Or that might help educate hiring Managers?

My advice would be to stress how important communications skills are within a finance role. These are skills that many qualified accountants may not have. Also it’s important to note that all organisations have a chartered accountant or audit partner which can provide the input on regulations and finance law if you don’t have these yourself as a QBE finance professional.

(6) What have you achieved in the six months you have been in post?

  • Created an internal finance system that mirrors a remote accounting set-up managed by the US-based parent organisation, making it easier for the senior management team to see the current financial position.
  • Within three months resolved a long term problem around accounts payable liabilities valued at around $90K by replacing ineffective email-based communications with a shared tracker system.
  • Led and implemented a change of strategy relating to income recognition.  Previously the board had to recognise income in a lump sum allocated across years according to the grant’s terms, due to the inflexibility of the US-based finance system. My plan to recognise income according across the relevant timeline was made possible through my new internal financial system and has been welcomed by the senior management team.