Role: Accounts assistant
For Alex O’Brien, working with Mars Inc as an accounts assistant provides great exposure to a wide area of management accounting skills and responsibilities as well as developing business partnership skills.
Alex’s role, from a management accounting perspective, encompasses intercompany support to the ice cream business, budget management with budget holders and benefit in kind support to associates: all functions that allow him to engage proactively in the business whilst working with a ‘great team’.
Managing intercompany issues involves liaising with 20 factories around Europe from which Mars Inc buy stock. Alex ensures that charges for stock and services bought from factories throughout Europe matches what was actually received. As part of the process Alex also looks after the transfer pricing of all products bought from factories around Europe and the financial implications of any changes to the prices of these products. ‘Any price variances between our unit and the factories need to be identified as soon as possible and relevant changes made as they impact on the period financial results statements,’ he states.
The cream of business skills
According to Alex his CIMA studies have pushed him to develop business partnering skills and he has been able to apply this through his role within the ice cream business especially with regards to adding value to the business. ‘I particularly enjoy this part of my job. It means working closely with the ice cream national account manager, gaining insights into the customers and helping to inform strategic decisions,’ he enthuses.
’I provide sales and profitability reports by customer and product to the ice cream national account manager as part of the business support process. This then helps to steer the ice cream business in a profitable direction. Underpinning this are a wide range of responsibilities from monitoring warehouse stock levels, receiving in new stock orders and payment of the same through the inter company process to invoicing customers for stock purchases and ensuring timely payment.’
For budget management Alex works closely with budget holders across the business, ranging from supply chain to marketing, sales, logistics and P&O. ‘After annual targets are set I sit down with the budget holders on a quarterly basis to ensure that their budgets are hit and challenge them to stick as close as possible to their plans where possible. This gives me the opportunity to meet with associates from different areas of the business and to understand what issues they are facing, what promotions they are running and how they are getting on in general. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the business at all levels’, he says.
The benefits of CIMA
Benefit in kind reviews are an understandably sensitive issue which sees Alex work closely with revenue guidelines. ‘It’s important to ensure that associates are on track so they don’t get any extra or unanticipated tax charges during the year,’ he states.
According to Alex, working with Mars Inc provides an extremely supportive environment both in terms of his CIMA studies and career progression. ‘By undertaking the CIMA qualification, aligned to the experience and insights gained through working with Mars, I can apply the theory to the business reality in a practical way. In enterprise management, for example, we discussed the implications of more sophisticated systems and how they are transforming the accountant's role within a business.
’Many of the traditional jobs that an accountant would do are now automated and this gives finance the opportunity to move up the value chain and get closer to the business,’ he continues. ‘By having more time to analyse financial information rather than simply producing it means you are therefore creating better-quality reports. I can use the reports created from our systems to provide the ice cream manager with useful analysis that in turn informs the decision making process.’
Alex also points to CIMA’s financial operations module. ‘We learnt how to create the statement of comprehensive income and statement of financial position. This was a great way to see how the work I do fits into the bigger picture, and raised my awareness as to how my role impacts on our accounts’. He again gained valuable experience helping redesign the ice cream order to cash process, splitting the role across three categories of the business from supply chain to customer service to accounts receivable.
Alex was first attracted to CIMA due to its orientation towards the future and its scope to bring him ‘closer to the action,’ including the opportunity for an international career. ‘Finance plays a pivotal role in business decisions, particularly now that everyone has an eye on the financial implications of those decisions. Whilst in-depth analysis of the past is important, it is CIMA’s focus on using financial information to make better business decisions that attracted me to the qualification’, he notes.
’Studying CIMA will give me the tools and knowledge to help steer business decisions in the future. CIMA complements my entrepreneurial side more than any of the other qualifications and in practical terms, as applied to Mars Inc, has led me to improve our working capital through cash management’.
Looking to the future, Alex believes that CIMA will give him a solid base from which to be a good asset to his company. ‘Mars is an international company that encourages associate mobility, and I hope CIMA will be my passport to many units around the world. CIMA is a highly regarded international qualification which will hopefully accelerate my career progression’.