Although daunting, the idea of relocating to a new country for an accounting or finance job sounds simultaneously exciting and glamorous — particularly if there is a significant salary increase on offer. A change of scenery, coupled with a financial incentive, can appear almost irresistible. Yet for savvy accounting professionals, relocation can provide major strategic career benefits that go far beyond a more attractive financial package. Indeed, given the complex demands of an increasingly multicultural and globalised business environment, the strategic benefits of relocation should arguably count just as heavily as the financial benefits.
For accounting professionals, and CGMA designation holders in particular, hard-won credentials and technical expertise are highly portable across borders — making it even more appealing to pursue global opportunities.
We spoke to industry experts to uncover the more nuanced, strategic benefits that relocation can bring:
Gain critical organisational/industry insight. By taking up an opportunity in a different country or region, management accountants can gain exposure to new elements of the business or industry in question — ultimately making themselves more valuable to their employer.
According to Pieter Bensch, the executive vice-president for Africa and Middle East at Sage, a provider of cloud business management solutions, the wider the perspective a finance professional has on an industry or an organisation, the better placed he or she is to take up the role of a trusted adviser to the business.
“For example, many multinationals run sales and support offices in Africa — but working for their business in Asia, North America, or Europe for a while could be an opportunity to get close to product development, manufacturing, and other aspects of the business,” he explained. “It’s also a way to learn about how the organisational culture spans geographic borders.” This exposure allows finance professionals to understand the needs, and challenges, of other functions. It also adds a more practical understanding to budget line items.
Deepen your self-awareness. Dirusha Ganapathy Juta, founder and managing director of South African HR consultancy Beyond Transform, highlighted that relocation provides a unique opportunity for critical personal development.
“Relocation teaches you to embrace change (a key requirement for success in a rapidly technologically advancing world), challenges your thinking in becoming more open-minded to different cultures, and also enables a deeper understanding of your own personal potential and limitations,” she said.
According to Juta, relocation ultimately provides the opportunity for a greater degree of self-awareness “to understand your place in the world and more about what you really want and need”.
Grow your professional network. Many ambitious and skilled people hesitate to move to a different country because they don’t have a professional network to tap into on the other side of the border — and are reluctant to leave their existing network behind. Relocation can provide a less daunting first step and an invaluable opportunity to develop a new, global network backed by the support and resources of an organisation.
“Relocation is a way to expand your business network from your home country into new markets, and that is valuable in a world of global opportunity,” Bensch said. “Having contacts overseas means that you are plugged into a wider job market, offering more chances to find the opportunity of your dreams.”
In South Africa, for example, which is currently experiencing a loss of talent amid economic and political volatility, many finance and accounting professionals are looking for opportunities in other markets. Even if the new role isn’t in the country or region of choice, relocation can be the first move toward a more international — and stable — career trajectory.
“Relocating can also be a way to move up the ladder faster, particularly if your country’s economy has stagnated or new opportunities are slow to open in your company,” Bensch added. “Plus, a network of global professional contacts can benefit you wherever you are working — you can get referrals, recommendations, and advice from global colleagues, which can be an asset to you and the company you work for.”
Develop key interpersonal skills. As machine learning and artificial intelligence play a greater role in finance and accounting, CFOs and leaders are increasingly requiring finance professionals to become better problem-solvers, strategists, and communicators. According to a white paper from recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, Bridging the Skills Gap in Finance Functions, “Strong technical skills are still vital for finance professionals”, but employers also want staff who are excellent communicators and can effectively manage key stakeholders within the business.
As Beyond Transform’s Juta underscored, relocation often forces professionals to develop stronger communication skills in order to integrate and flourish.
“It is a given that with relocation, you will advance your skills both professionally and personally as you will be challenged to adapt, integrate into a new culture, and learn new ways of thinking and working,” she explained. “Key skills that one would gain relate to adaptability, resilience, interpersonal skills, flexibility, self-confidence, the ability to work and thrive under pressure, as well as communication skills and teamwork.”
Enhance your marketability. According to Sage’s Bensch, finance and accounting professionals with an international background are extremely attractive to employers because, he noted, it takes grit, courage, and flexibility to live and work in another country. In his view, “well-travelled” finance professionals have skills and insights that are invaluable to organisations that operate across borders.
“They also have a proven ability to adapt to different circumstances, exposure to a range of ideas and practices, and experience in working with people from different cultures — all of which can help them to be innovative thinkers with new solutions to organisational challenges,” he said. “People with a multinational career background often have an edge in negotiating their salaries, securing promotions, or getting hired for the best opportunities.”
— Jessica Hubbard 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.