Building resilience in challenging timesA management accountant shares his experience on how integrated thinking can bolster financial resilience, especially in the face of COVID-19.
Anthony Boateng, FCMA, CGMA, is currently the lead for Africa and the financial resilience specialist for the consultancy NIRAS Sweden AB, the evaluators of the Ford Foundation Building Institutions and Networks (BUILD) initiative, a five-year, $1 billion investment in social justice organisations around the world.
His main role is to provide leadership for the African cohort of the evaluations mostly in East and West Africa. He also holds a law degree.
FM magazine interviewed Boateng about his experience strengthening institutional sustainability by taking an integrated thinking approach.
What are the biggest professional challenges that you are facing in the workplace as a management accountant? How are you addressing those challenges?
Anthony Boateng: Right now, I am working as an international development consultant in developing economies. I am a financial resilience specialist, and I am evaluating and assessing institutions that are receiving international funding. My task is to make sure that these institutions can weather any storms that arise.
My major challenge is the unpredictable nature of this work — which involves dealing with institutions in different sectors, of different sizes, and addressing different issues. This makes the work very unpredictable and complex. I also have to ensure that I am not using a one-size-fits-all model to assess the performance of these institutions.
To address the challenge of complexity, I have relied on my training over the years. The nature of the CIMA training ensures that you are not “tunnel-visioned” when addressing issues but rather enables you to take an integrated thinking approach … and to see how things connect. This training prepares you to think much more widely around the issues.
What are the most important skills for you right now, and what will be the most important skills for you in five or ten years? What are you doing to keep your skills current?
Boateng: My most important skill is being able to apply the integrated thinking approach. As technology develops and many tasks and roles can be easily automated, we [management accountants] need to be able to see how things connect.
In terms of keeping my skills current, staying connected within my network is really important. I also draw on CIMA publications and platforms to understand the shifting trends and major issues within our sector.
What role do you see for management accounting in the areas of financial resilience and institutional sustainability in the next five years, particularly given the impact of COVID-19?
Boateng: I think that management accountants should crowd the place.
With the growing emphasis on integrated reporting, many private-sector institutions are trying to form foundations to ensure that they are seen as being socially responsible. As management accountants, we should promote the integrated thinking approach (which is the basis of our qualification) and demonstrate that profits would be much more sustainable through being conscious of both people and the environment.
In light of the global pandemic, management accountants should be at the frontline in their organisations to develop tools and help put in place the necessary measures to address the disruptions created by COVID-19.
When the right questions are asked, the right assumptions can be made to get predictive insights into the financial impact being caused by the pandemic. Organisations should also see this as an opportunity to interrogate their processes to ensure that waste is eliminated and frugal innovation is encouraged — we can’t let a crisis go to waste! Management accountants should therefore make every effort to ensure that their organisations have enough AIR (agility, innovation, and resilience) to breathe during this crisis.
Our training allows us to be the frontrunners for this role.
How is your management accounting experience assisting you in your current work for Ford Foundation’s BUILD initiative?
Boateng: It is invaluable … there is no way I could do this job without my background and CIMA training. Because of this training, I can take an integrated thinking approach — and when I came onboard for these evaluations, I emphasised that we needed to separate the causes from the effects. My training allows me to have a panoramic view of things, instead of being limited to tunnel vision.
Give your past self career advice based on what you’ve learned so far.
Boateng: I would say dedicate 60% of your time to understanding the implications of the different industries. Use the other 40% to focus on building technical abilities.
With the advent of technology, most of the stuff we do is going to be automated — and emphasis or relevance is going to be placed on our influence and impact. To have an impact, you have to understand how industries work, what makes them tick, and how the different aspects of these industries connect.
What is your advice to institutions looking to develop resilient business models in fast-changing African environments?
Boateng: Context, context, context.
We have lots of different modules [to draw from], which have been tried and tested in controlled environments (environments with strong institutions and regulators). When you try to replicate these modules in an unstructured environment (without strong institutions/regulation), you need to ensure that you are applying these modules in context.
I ensure that the modules I am using are customised, in a way, for the region or environment in which I am operating within. This is what is missing in terms of the advice given to developing economies. We tend to force what has worked in the controlled environment to make it work in unstructured environments.
As a senior management accountant, what key characteristics and/or skills do you need to ensure that you can protect the financial integrity and manage risks within organisations today?
Boateng: There has to be a strong ethical focus on the way you do things and an understanding of how you can perceive some of the dangers — not just for the institution, but for yourself as well. So, you have to do some form of reputational risk assessment on yourself. For example, ask: “How is this going to affect my brand? Can I increase my visibility, or is it going to taint my image?”
— 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.