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The first ACCA Ireland Shared Services Roundtable was held on 6 May 2011.

This article was first published in the July 2011 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

The roundtable brought together high-level FCCAs within the sector in Ireland, sharing perspectives on an area recognised as being of strategic importance to Ireland’s high-value services-driven economy. The participants included:

  • Caroline Curtis FCCA, senior director, Controllership Accounting & Reporting, EMEA, Yahoo;
  • Colm D’Arcy FCCA, director of financial operations, Hertz;
  • Peter Fagan FCCA, European financial controller, CIT;
  • Jack Gogarty FCCA, director, Regional Finance Centre Europe and Eurasia, Coca-Cola;
  • Richard Lundon FCCA, chief financial officer, IBM Ireland;
  • Tom Rushe FCCA, director of finance, eSSC, Baxter; and,
  • Julie Spillane FCCA, director, European Service Centre, Accenture.

The roundtable was chaired by Donal Nugent, editor of AB Ireland.

A common theme emerging from the roundtable was the progression of the shared service centre (SSC) from a back-office function to an enabler of growth and product development. Key drivers of this process, as identified by the roundtable, included:

  • A culture of innovation in Irish SSCs, focused on building relationships and moving up the value chain;
  • The availability of graduates with internationally recognised accountancy qualifications, such as ACCA;
  • The flexibility of the Irish workforce and the attractiveness of Ireland as a place to locate; and,
  • A critical mass of SSCs in Ireland, supported by a pool of expertise of international calibre.

THEMES FROM THE DAY

THE Irish SSC as an enabler of growth

Julie Spillane, Accenture
I would see SSCs as being enablers in two ways. There is growth enabling whereby, as the company expands, it doesn’t have to keep adding back-office functions and can do things in a more streamlined and efficient way. But there is also the enabling that comes from working with the business – not seeing your role as strictly back-office. For me, this is the major step up that SSCs have to make.

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
Six or seven years ago, the idea of an SSC was as an off-shore location that pushed units. We use the term ‘centre of excellence’ in Yahoo! to challenge the idea that shared services is down the value chain. We see ourselves very much as a core business support.

Colm D’Arcy, Hertz
The Hertz finance division in Dublin created its own mission statement and part of this is to be a revenue generator. There were some eyebrows raised, initially, as the SSC was seen as a cost. We highlighted all the financial products and services we have helped to develop, and we are now recognised as having a distinct identity and a strategic importance within the corporate structure. 

Moving up the value chain

Tom Rushe, Baxter
We have found that, with any business acquisitions or divestitures over the last five-to-six years, that the SSC has been at the centre of the integration project from the start. We know the processes and we can get access to all the information. There isn’t another function within the company as well placed as finance to take advantage of shared services to support such critical transactions.

Colm D’Arcy, Hertz
In an SSC environment, evolving a service is often a question of how well you can mobilise a team to effect change and make it happen faster than it would have otherwise. The more projects you deliver on successfully, the more opportunities that come to you.

Richard Lundon, IBM
To play the role of trusted business adviser, SSCs need to build up relationships with the sales team and be there when they first engage with customers. In this way, you can really help to generate revenue and get deals across the table much quicker.

The appeal of Ireland as a location

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
The workforce in Ireland is very flexible. Having a workforce that is willing to be on calls at 7pm at night is hugely valuable but not recognised as a selling point. One thing I also feel we undersell is how geographically well placed we are. In the morning you can call Asia and, in the evening, the west coast of the US.

Jack Gogarty, Coca-Cola
There is a natural curiosity in the Irish workforce that leads them to challenge things and drive change. The quality of the people, the mindset, the desire to continuously improve and standardise things, on top of a business-friendly environment, were all part of the decision-making process for Coca-Cola.

Richard Lundon, IBM
The multi-national sector looks at Ireland and they see a well-educated labour pool and a controls-focused environment. It is, arguably, not the most cost-effective place to do business, but we saw, in a recent IBM report, that, despite the economic challenges, Ireland was ranked as the number one destination, globally, for jobs by inward investment per capita. We have huge structural strengths and assets in things like education, people and ease of doing business.

Tom Rushe, Baxter
Looking to the future, we are focusing, like every company, on drives for efficiency and cost reduction, while, at the same time, enhancing the services that we provide. There are lots of opportunities to bring more work to the Irish team and, as that happens, we’ll see the role of the SSC develop further.

Julie Spillane, Accenture
Accenture did the first ever survey on Irish SSCs, comparing them to global SSCs. One of the key things it talked about was talent management, making sure good people are coming through. You find that, in other countries, people aren’t as flexible about developing a more rounded skill set as here.

Peter Fagan, CIT
In the case of CIT, it’s taken us a long time to get to where we are today, given the complexity within our organisation and the increasing demands of the regulatory environment in Europe. To ‘lift and shift’ elements of that to, for example, an Eastern European location would require a lot of justification. While Ireland may not be the cheapest place to do business, the skill set and the pool of talent you can draw on here is very significant.

The value of internationally recognised qualifications

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
To me, there is an integrity to the ACCA qualification. If you start some one in one role and want to move them to another, with ACCA you can do that, because it will not be completely unfamiliar territory to them.

Richard Lundon, IBM
Ireland, initially, was a cost play when it came to SSCs. Now, we have gone to a quality play. By having the ACCA qualification, you know you are getting quality. You are also getting the benchmark to measure other qualifications against.

Tom Rushe, Baxter
By focusing on staff training and development and encouraging the pursuit of a professional accounting qualification, such as ACCA, we have demonstrated that SSCs do need real accountants with serious career aspirations.

Selling the opportunity of shared services as a career

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
We probably need to work harder to get across the message that working in shared services offers an incredible opportunity – you get multiple exposure to different jurisdictions; you get in on really interesting projects; and you get to work with the front end of the business from the start.

Tom Rushe, Baxter
We have an alumni of almost 20 people who used to work in the Baxter SSC, who now work elsewhere within the company. Showing this to interviewees is an important selling point.

Peter Fagan, CIT
Our head office function is in Blackrock and it looks after everything from payroll, treasury tax, accounts payable, mergers and acquisitions, reconciliations, tax and VAT. There can also be a lot of travel involved. That creates a lot of opportunities for your CV.

Skill sets of a shared services accountant

Richard Lundon, IBM
A shared services accountant is a well-rounded individual who has flexibility and communication skills. It is someone who can work with the business and with other accountants, who can stand in front of the guys in head office and make apresentation,and, finally, one who is willing and able to move comfortably from division to division.

Colm D’Arcy, Hertz
For me, it’s about getting a person who has accountancy skills but also the ability to manage people in a performance-based environment, often across a wide spectrum of cultural differences. We find one of the most important things is getting the job description right in the public domain. Until you do that, you find people may not consider the role.

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
You need accountants who know when it is appropriate for them to make a decision, who are not looking for someone to tell them what to do all the time.

Facing the challenge… of IFRS

Julie Spillane, Accenture
IFRS is one of those areas that we in shared services have to get out in front of – we can’t wait for it to happen. We have the academic qualifications and we need to build those skills and push them up the corporate ladder.

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
One of the challenges of IFRS is that it is purported to cost a lot more in audit hours and, therefore, costs. From a corporate perspective, the message that needs to be communicated, globally, is that it’s not that Dublin has become more expensive, it’s that increased audit costs across non-US entities have come about because IFRS has changed the disclosure requirements.


Ireland's current standing

Julie Spillane, Accenture
I think it’s about managing the communication channels. If all people know is what they read in the papers then you will have a problem but we would, from a shared services perspective and a local manager level, manage those relationships with the US and give them the other side of the story and I think that’s extremely important. You can’t deny the things that are happening but you’ve got to balance it out.

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
For a lot of people I talk to socially, the tax rate is an important thing. I don’t think we should underplay it. It is a critical issue for Ireland Inc. What corporates don’t like is uncertainty and the one thing about the 12.5% rate is that it is certain. If you open that box once then credibility is risked and, in my opinion, once that happens it’s over.

Richard Lundon, IBM
We need to stand firm. We have an educated, flexible, English-speaking workforce and we have the low corporation tax and the time zone advantage. We have to spell out all of those advantages clearly.

Closing thoughts

Peter Fagan, CIT
In an SSC, you can gain a huge amount of experience in many areas in a relatively short period of time, rather than hopping from company to company.

Julie Spillane, Accenture
We have to understand that we can’t be cost competitive in some things in Ireland and we need to let that go. That’s our only way to be credible about moving up the value chain.

Colm D’Arcy, Hertz
Enabling is a growth process. It comes back to project management and the ability to deliver. The more projects you deliver on successfully the more opportunities will come to you.

Tom Rushe, Baxter
Whether you decide to remain in shared services or to use it as a gateway to another role, the experience and respect that you attain from working in a highly-performing SSC, with other professional accountants, cannot be overestimated.

Caroline Curtis, Yahoo!
We are at an inflection point as a country with regard to negativity. We need to start getting the good news stories out there. We have talent and ability and willingness, so let’s praise the positive.

Jack Gogarty, Coca-Cola
There is no recession in shared services.

Last updated: 14 Jul 2014