Mentorship in a financial environment

Mentorship in a financial environment

Forward-thinking businesses will often recognise the need to offer their finance chief and other senior executives independent advice and guidance, writes PAUL HARRISON of Waltons Clark Whitehill. And it may be that accountancy firms are uniquely placed to step into the role of mentor.

Let’s imagine a scenario in which someone has newly been appointed as Finance Director of a business, perhaps after a number of years as an accountant. The company sees their potential and knows they’re ready for a new leadership role, but it’s not always a straightforward transition to make.  The advice of an impartial mentor can be a great confidence boost and help to solve a number of practical issues – at both a tactical and strategic level.

Accountancy firms will often be able to offer a mentoring service to their clients. Five key areas in which a mentor can help a busy FD or business owner include:

Setting the company’s financial scoreboard – not merely looking at the accounts, but communicating meaningful information to the wider management team.

Forecasting financial requirements – thinking about cashflow, the input that may be coming from external funders, dealing with the bank and addressing invoice finance.

Managing the accounting function – building a team, although not necessarily working within it.

Liaising with external professionals – providing the tools to help in proactively managing professionals such as lawyers, bankers and financial advisers.

Managing corporate finance and capital requirements – overseeing the investment of venture capitalists, as well asset and bank finance.

In practice, there are a number of different ways of managing the relationship between a mentor and mentee.  It can be as structured and formal as is required.

The parties can meet together for, say, an hour or an hour and a half on a monthly basis and simply tackle the biggest issue that’s currently on the mentee’s agenda. But the session can also be used to start drawing up a road map for the next six months. Or look ahead over a three or five-year timescale if the mentee happens to be, for instance, the owner of a small business who’s looking for an exit strategy.

Ultimately, though, one can think of a mentor as someone who can help to grow their business. Perhaps they’ll make a very obvious difference – helping to access money from a venture capitalist when a bank refuses to lend, for example. Or it may be that they’ll simply offer sound, impartial advice that will allow steady progress to be made, month by month.