Turning wishes into actions

By Jann Brown, ICAS President

9 September 2014

Jann Brown reports on brighter financial prospects at home and worldwide challenges

Finance directors are not often mistaken for a ray of sunshine. However, this month's survey in The CA of our ICAS finance directors shows the ice melting even in our corner of the boardroom, as economic confidence returns for the finance leaders of Britain.

While last year more than half of our FDs could see no light at the end of the tunnel, 76 per cent now predict growth over the next 12 months. Back in 2010, our brows were even more furrowed as 75 per cent of FDs only saw a gloomy future in our crystal balls. 

But just before we start uncorking the Irn Bru in celebration and relaxing the iron fist on our risk registers, it is worth pointing out that while the UK climate is encouraging, the global risks would have you reaching for the Prozac. Growth in the Eurozone flatlined in the second quarter with fresh calls for the European Central Bank to administer financial fertiliser.

The economies of Germany, France and Italy are all in retreat. Unemployment levels are grim. Back in Britain, Governor Mark Carney dances the Hokey Cokey on interest rate rises and ventures that we are only half way on the long road to recovery.

On top of that, my professional scepticism questions what progress has really been made to rebalance the UK economy?

On the global stage, every week seems to bring another crisis: Ukraine, Syria, Gaza, Iraq. Geopolitical turmoil isn't good for global business. American air strikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq send a shudder through the spine of boardrooms.

The prospect of sanctions for Russia over its behaviour in Ukraine is just another worry for many finance leaders. The fear is that these conflicts could create the conditions for slow and faltering economic growth for some time to come. If world peace is a tricky task, so is the other big issue our FDs have set their sights on in this year's survey - how to restore public trust in business?

ICAS believes that we and every one of our 20,000 members have a role to play in this. Interestingly, CA FDs see 'changing corporate culture' as the route to restoring trust. Regulation was at the bottom of the list. A clear and encouraging response that behaviour and principles, not rules, are at the heart of the solution. There was also a cry for 'more transparent, understandable financial reporting'.

That's a mantra which is often preached on these pages. But I feel there is a growing consensus that after years of talking, now is the time to turn wishing words into effective actions. Stronger, independent boards are also highlighted as another key to the elixir of trust. Again, this is an issue that ICAS has pursued with evangelical zeal in recent times.

The 'Finance Directors' Who's Who' shows how uniquely placed ICAS is to lead change in Britain's boardrooms. It is an astonishing array of talent, all connected by the CA qualification and by ICAS values. Nearly, 3,000 of our 20,000 members are FDs or CFOs. That's an impressive collective of boardroom clout.

Our 'Who's Who?' is a stark illustration of where our ICAS finance leaders can have real power in leading change in the difficult journey of restoring trust in business. The answer lies in our actions and our leadership.

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