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Data holds the answer, but finance finds it

 Data holds the answer, but finance finds it

Whether internal or external, structured or unstructured, data is fast becoming the lifeblood of any company. Quality data sets, after all, generate information, which provides knowledge and wisdom to make more informed value-adding business decisions, said Bob Osho, FCMA, CGMA, managing director of Metrofile Nigeria, a Lagos-based document storage and information management company. He spoke recently at the CGMA Africa Conference 2019: Finance Transformation in the Digital World in Cape Town.

With the digital revolution in full swing, the growing importance of data is forcing financial professionals to think outside of the box and beyond figures to solve problems. “As a financial professional, you need to understand the data you have at your disposal and how to work with it, over and above the problem you intend to solve and what value you want to create with that data,” Osho said in an interview after his presentation. “If the data is unstructured, you need to know how to structure it. This is where your problem-solving skills come in.”

Secondly, being able to see the finer details as well as the bigger picture and bring them together whilst communicating this across multiple departments in a way that everyone understands is key, too.

“This is where your interpersonal and communications skills are important,” Osho said. “You need to talk to techies about what you want and what you intend to achieve in a language they understand. This allows them to apply their minds better and get better results. Otherwise, they could get you data that doesn’t make sense or isn’t relevant.”

A third essential skill financial professionals should possess when trying to solve problems through data is the ability to collaborate and work as one team. “When process changes or definition adjustments must be made, everyone in the team needs to be informed. If not, you may end up with different and conflicting data sets,” he added. “Being a financial professional isn’t just about numbers, it is more and more becoming about people.”

Finally, the ability and willingness to think critically are equally important, as that allows you to challenge the data you are working with. “As an accountant, when you see the data come in, you need to constantly think about what it means and what it is telling you,” Osho explained, urging financial professionals to always be curious and have an inquisitive mind.

“Curiosity and being inquisitive allows you to add value,” he said, referring to the time when he joined South African mobile communications company MTN in 2004 as chief enterprise solution officer for MTN Nigeria. After that, he was appointed as chief executive officer of MTN Liberia. “I didn’t know much about telecoms, but I wanted to know everything about it. The better you understand the business you are in, the more you can add value.”

Employers can help their financial teams unlock and enhance these and other essential skills through in-house training.

“However, what is key to developing these skills is passion. If you are a passionate accountant, these skills are easy to learn,” he said. “If you are not passionate about your job, your company, and what you are trying to achieve, no amount of training can help you. You need to want to make a difference in order to add value.”

Miriam Mannak is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.