2020 was sobering, transformational, and, in many ways, inevitable: sobering because of the lives lost to, and impacted by, the COVID-19 pandemic; transformational because of the success with which many pivoted to virtual work or school and adapted to change; and inevitable because it revealed long-standing issues with race relations, social injustice, economic imbalance, and political divisiveness.
The biggest professional challenge I faced over the past year was trying to deliver major projects with two children under the age of nine competing with work deliverables for my attention. It got worse before it got better, but it took my accepting that I needed help. My husband began bearing more of the load in terms of virtual schooling and the kids’ entertainment. We hired a nanny! Yes, during the pandemic. Thankfully, she’s a family friend. We co-quarantined our households so she could safely come to the house, allowing me the time and space to focus, increase my productivity, and be more present with the kids when I wasn’t working. If you can find the means for it, don’t hesitate to get the help that you need.
I joined British multinational energy company BP as part of a rotational graduate program that allowed me to work in three different parts of the organization in the first three years. This helped to build my foundational understanding of the business’s value chain. Business acumen is such an important part of the finance function’s delivery.
I started leading key components of the close process in the area I was assigned after the rotational program ended, then moved to a digital transformation role, working with a team to lead large-scale finance and business-transformation projects related to technology. Taking on that project-management role helped me to get my first experience with team leadership in financial reporting, and I led teams and transformation initiatives in all subsequent roles at the company.
After I served roles in two segments of BP, a 60-minute overview session about robotic process automation (RPA) changed my career’s trajectory. During the session, I became so taken by what seemed to be widespread applicability of RPA that I must have read 15 articles and watched a dozen videos on the technology within the next week. That prompted me to explore other digital technologies and even lead an evaluation of RPA as a potential solution for a transformation initiative that I was asked to spearhead.
A few months later, BP’s Upstream Finance team posted a role internally looking for someone to establish an RPA program within the finance function. I applied and got the role! That role taught me more about technology and leadership than I could have ever expected and solidified my passion for the value of technology to the various business disciplines. The role also revealed, however, that finance and accounting professionals don’t always have access to the resources that they need to understand the tools that could transform their delivery. I intend to dedicate the rest of my career to the marriage of digital technology and finance and accounting value delivery.
In 2019, I was elected to the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Global Board of Directors. While serving on the board, I realized I could reach more accountants and financial professionals across the globe if I worked as an IMA staff member. So, I joined IMA to play a role in advancing the management accounting and finance profession. Doing that is both challenging and exciting! In 2021, I’m looking forward to demystifying more digital technologies for members of our profession, ensuring that more students understand what will be expected of them as they take on accounting and finance roles, and playing a leading role in the widespread improvement of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the global accounting profession.
The best first step for students and early-career professionals is to consider sitting for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam while still in college (ideally your senior year) or as early as possible in your career. I wish I’d taken the exam when I was still in college! Become an IMA student member. Membership fees are low, and you get so many membership benefits, including access to short courses that practitioners take to upskill and a network of students, university faculty, and practitioners in the profession. Ask the accounting professors at your school about starting an IMA student chapter or becoming recognized under IMA’s Higher Education Endorsement Program.
More broadly, keep learning. Take chances. The accelerated pace of change in the business world won’t slow down anytime soon. We must adopt a mind-set of continuous learning so that we’re better positioned to add value and tackle challenges that we can’t anticipate. My constant curiosity, commitment to continuous learning, willingness to take chances, and respect for great leaders ahead of me presented opportunities I might never have had otherwise. Be persistent to become successful.
PREDICTIONS FOR 2021 AND BEYOND
The risk of RPA and other digital technologies eliminating a noteworthy amount of the work finance and accounting professionals currently perform is real. It won’t happen overnight, but over time, the impact will be expansive. Our profession must have the right capabilities to outpace technology advances and win the race for relevance. If we, as a profession, take the lead and continue to develop our skills, we’ll be well-positioned to play leading roles in finance transformations, deliver greater strategic decision support through higher value-added tasks, and occupy those roles that will be created or transformed by technology advances.
In the short term, more finance and accounting leaders will embrace permanent flexible working arrangements for staff and, the hope is that that will prompt finance functions to collaborate in creative ways to improve their overall organization’s agility. In the long term, our profession’s future will be shaped by our ability to deliver efficiently, embrace data analytics, bolster our skill sets, and ensure that the presence and contributions of talented people from all backgrounds are equally recognized.