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"As a consultant, you are in the driver's seat of your own career"

finance consultancy & interim management

If we can call the world of finance unique, we should certainly say the same about the job of (freelance) finance consultant. CFO Magazine had a special roundtable discussion with three consultants - two of them on a freelance basis - who each have their own exciting project underway. What does the world of finance consultancy look like in 2023 and how do they experience the opportunities the sector offers them?

There is no doubt that enthusiasm and passion are two prerequisites for working as a finance consultant. This much became immediately clear at the start of the interview. With her 13 years of experience as a freelance finance consultant, Anja Janssen explains what made her choose this role: "As a person, I am very eager to learn and always want to achieve quick results. With every project, you start again and again without credentials and you have to prove yourself again. That creates drive and eagerness."

Over the years, she has mainly focused on process optimisation within different sectors, from SMEs to multinationals. "It suits my character to get a taste of lots of things. A duration of six months per project is ideal for me." Today, she does just that as business controller ad interim at GXO Logistics. The variety of environments and challenges is also what made Evy Voortmans choose the job of finance consultant at Hyphen four years ago. She already has 15 years' experience as an accounting manager, but for the past year and a half she has been source-to-pay manager at Nike in Laakdal. "With each project, I learn things that I can take to subsequent projects. With my current project, I am getting to know RPA extensively for the first time, for example.”

Direct impact

The usually short lead times of the projects you work on as a consultant ensures that you make a valuable contribution every time. "As a consultant, your opinion always matters and you get appreciation everywhere. You are just recruited to do things differently, so you can immediately make your mark on departments, processes or policies." From her role, Laura De Bondt, freelance business controller ad interim at Brussels Airport Company, also derives great satisfaction from being able to assist people in a very direct way. "Among other things, I help implement SAP S/4HANA. This goes beyond a purely supporting role; I am at the wheel to transfer the implementation to the team. Together with fellow consultants, we provide more breathing room."

"As a freelance consultant, I can job hop without anyone blaming me."

Laura De Bondt, freelance business controller

Freelance consultancy

Laura deliberately chose consultancy on a self-employed basis. "It allows me to be a job hopper without anyone blaming me. I don't need approval to attend certain training courses and can always follow the direction I want to take." An added advantage is also that you can cherrypick today in terms of the projects you choose to work on. "Freelancers are in high demand, you notice the moment you get released. The match with the company and project is very important." As a consultant at Hyphen, Evy Voortmans very much appreciates the professional network that stands behind her and that she can fall back on for issues. "It is why I have been here for four years and why I am also committed to side projects within Hyphen. I am in the driver's seat of my career. The projects I am given are always in line with my expertise and interests. Complemented by an extensive training offer, this ensures that I can chart my own career path.

"Speed of insight is more important than ever. Every finance profile today needs to be a data analyst to some extent, including consultants”

Anja Janssen, Freelance Business Controller

Data and storytelling

Thanks to their experience in the field and in various companies, sectors and industries, the consultants have a good feel for what is moving in the sector. Anja Janssen: "Speed of insight and shortening the closing process are more important today than ever. On the other hand, the accuracy of figures is often in question. We sometimes have to go back to the source to see how data are being captured. Every finance profile today should have an interest in data and be a bit of a data analyst, including consultants." To this, Laura De Bondt adds a second, important evolution: "There is more and more emphasis on social skills, which creates a search for communicative finance profiles. Finance is sitting at the table, presenting reports and figures, doing storytelling."

Change management

People management is therefore very important for consultants. "We ourselves are always eager for change and want to move forward quickly, but this is not evident for employees who have long been used to certain routines or actions. It is important to demonstrate the benefits, but also to name what is going well and accommodate each other. Sometimes an individual approach is needed and we take on a coaching role," says Laura De Bondt. "We have to look at everyone's strengths and take them into account. In doing so, we sometimes also have to put on the brakes because people from above want to go too fast," adds Evy Voortmans.

In light of the current labour market scarcity, another important trend is emerging within the world of finance consultancy. Laura De Bondt. "We are often hired to help shape certain roles within a company at an early stage. Our experience comes in handy here, so junior profiles can start later in a position that is more clearly defined or to form a temporary tandem together." In this way, consultants provide peace of mind and avoid hasty decisions that result in a bad match.

"Consultants must take into account everyone's strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes dare to put on the brakes"

Evy Voortmans, finance consultant bij Hyphen

Women in finance

There is a hopeful consensus among the three consultants that the world of finance is clearly moving towards a gender balance. From her experience in accountancy, Evy Voortmans describes how that was a woman's world for a long time. "Up to a certain level, because senior positions were mainly held by men." Yet a positive evolution is clearly taking place: "It is important that the person with the right skills is in the right chair. That is precisely why it is good to see more and more women filling the role of CFO," believes Anja Janssen.

In this sense, female CFOs are important role models. Evy Voortmans: "They show that combining it with a family is possible. Many young women put their career in finance on hold for a while to give priority to the family, but I don't think that is necessary. However, it is important that the employer allows and facilitates that combination."

CFO Magazine
Felix Ferret voor CFO Magazine

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