In the hot seat - insights in to working as a Finance Manager
Please start by giving us a short summary of your career to date and what role you are currently working in. My name is Egidija Albert. I’m a Finance Manager at Boots UK, who are part of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). A little bit about my background… I moved to live in the UK in 2012, when I started my BSc Financial Economics degree at the University of Leicester. Since I was young, I was always determined to have a highly challenging, fast-paced career. I always loved numbers, logic and analytics, therefore I decided that a career in Accounting & Finance was the one for me. In order to achieve my aspirations, I started building up my CV and experience by getting involved in a number of different activities whilst at university. I also completed a finance ‘year in industry’ placement with General Electric and a summer internship with Boots. The experience that I gained early on in my career opened up many doors to me and I was fortunate to secure a full-time finance role with Boots after my final year at university. Fast forward 4 years, I’m now a fully qualified ICAEW chartered accountant, working for one the largest health and beauty retailers in the UK. How did you work your way to becoming a “Finance Manager”? One of the biggest advantages of working for a large organisation like WBA is that there are endless opportunities to learn and develop. I have been fortunate to move around different parts of the business, gain experience in a variety of different roles and build a skill set that has given me an opportunity to progress to be a Finance Manager. My first full-time role at Boots was working as a Finance Analyst for the Pharmacy business. It was a great role for someone like myself as it offered insight into a business sector which is complex and highly regulated in equal measure. I quickly learnt and developed new skills through business partnering with non-finance stakeholders and supporting the teams through budgeting and forecasting cycles. I really enjoyed this role because I felt like I could add value to the business and develop strong commercial awareness through the business partnering experience. The second role that I did within WBA was working as part of the Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) team supporting the Global Brands business. This role was an excellent next move for my development, as it allowed me to align what I was studying while progressing through my ICAEW qualification. FP&A gave me exposure to senior leaders in the organisation, allowed me to understand the strategic direction of the business, and equipped me with analysis, budgeting and consolidation skills. My third role within the business was working for Boots Opticians supporting their property and portfolio agenda. This role was a good combination of financial accounting and business partnering, supporting a wide range of non-finance stakeholders in their decision making. I did financial modelling of new stores planning and other property interventions, as well as supporting the business with investment requisitions. Since joining WBA full time, I started studying towards becoming an ICAEW member and qualified in August 2019. Soon after qualifying, I joined the Finance Capital & Investment team as a Finance Manager supporting the Boots Beauty Reinvention transformation programme. My current role is fast paced, challenging and rewarding – exactly what I have been looking for! Taking on new challenges while rotating over a number of roles within WBA, developing new skills and good commercial awareness, has opened up many opportunities to me and allowed me to progress to where I am today. What is your typical day to day routine working as a “Finance Manager”? My workload is extremely varied and no day is the same! There are days when you walk through the office door with a plan for the day, but I often find that something unexpected crops up and I am involved in something new. This is what makes my job really exciting and enjoyable. My work on the Beauty Reinvention transformation involves a wide range of activities, working with cross functional teams including finance, trading, operations and management information. In terms of my interactions with other finance teams, I am involved in financial modelling, reporting, performance reviews and cost control activities. All of these activities give me an opportunity to work with a number of finance teams across the business, which is great for building my professional network and learning about various roles that finance teams play in a number of functions. While working with the Premium Beauty team, I am fortunate to get a first-hand insight into what it is like to work with the traders for one of the largest beauty retailers. It is truly fascinating how fast paced the beauty market is with many new product launches, ongoing supplier negotiations and constant changes in the market. I also spend a lot of my time working with our operations team to set up new ways of working, processes and procedures as well as efficiencies in our current processes. This is where I feel I can add a lot of value by using my finance skills to support the day to day operations of the business and implement efficiencies where possible. Over the last few months I have also worked closely with the Management Information team on a number of new automated tools and reports that drive performance and inform decision making in real time. My role is truly varied, no one day is the same, and this suits my current career aspirations perfectly. I am getting a lot of exposure to large parts of the Boots business, which is ever changing and there is a lot to learn. Do you have any advice to fellow ICAEW members looking to work as a “Finance Manager”? My main advice is to keep an open mind and try to find ways how to add value to the business that you work for. Many non-finance stakeholders appreciate the support and guidance from their finance teams as we are able to identify and implement efficiencies, better ways of working and streamline existing processes to save time and/or costs. I would also strongly recommend to get to know your key stakeholders well in order to identify how best you can support each other. At the end of the day, we are all human and having a good understanding of what motivates your business partners is really important. Personally, I always try to look beyond my immediate roles and responsibilities, which often opens up many opportunities to learn new things or get involved in new projects. I am a big believer in taking a step back, understanding the bigger picture and the direction the business is taking, to find the best way how your skills and contributions can support the business going forward. What is your favourite thing about working as a “Finance Manager”? There are a few things that I really like about my role as a Finance Manager. I absolutely love the variety and the learning that my role offers on a daily basis. One day I can be doing complex financial modelling, another day I can be learning all about new product launches, getting involved in supplier negotiations or working through some steps on how the business can navigate through these challenging times. I believe that I work best under pressure and like a challenge, therefore working in this role in the beauty sector is absolutely fascinating and rewarding! I’ve been doing my current role for just over six months now and when I look back, I can already see how far I have come. I’ve been given some excellent opportunities to learn and develop as a finance professional, and this really shines through on both my personal development objectives and the impact that I have been able to make to the business. I have been trusted and empowered to challenge the business, change the ways of working and add value to the teams that I support. What do you find most interesting about your role as a “Finance Manager”? Finding ways how to communicate, solve complex business issues and maintain strong professional relationships while communicating effectively with a wide range of stakeholders. My recent experience working on the Beauty Reinvention transformation at Boots has demonstrated that everyone is different in their ways of working and finding ways how to work effectively together is fascinating. Seeing how different teams work together, apply their skills while working on cross functional assignments, makes my role very interesting. I think there is a lot that we can all learn from each other and I take every opportunity where I can. Another aspect that I find exciting about my role is seeing how various store interventions come to life. It is extremely rewarding to see the project through from the very initial idea to implementation and successful launch. What challenges do you come across working as a “Finance Manager”? The organisational structure is very complex and many activities are intertwined between various teams and functions, therefore navigating through issues at pace might sometimes be challenging. However, every challenge offers an opportunity to develop, review the ways of working and improve. While working in this role, I have greatly improved my communication, stakeholder management and engagement skills. Working with many different people across a wide range of functions has been challenging at times, however I see this as an opportunity broaden my skills set and set myself up for any future assignments. What are your career aspirations, and where do you see your current role evolving to? Short term, I am excited to see the current programme through as the store roll out takes place. Along this journey, I hope that my role will evolve further and will allow me to further gain an insight into other areas of trading within WBA. My personal goal and what ‘good’ looks like for my current role is to make sure that I leave a lasting legacy within the teams that I support. My aim is to ensure that there are clear processes in place that allows the teams to work effectively and manage the ways of working in the best way possible long term. Beyond the next 12-18 months, I would love to continue my journey and my learning about the business. The next few years are expected to be challenging in many ways as the future of our economy remains uncertain, therefore I am intrigued to be part of this transformation and the future of finance, whatever that may look like. I am also extremely passionate about continuous learning and development, and I would love to continue supporting young finance professionals through their career and professional qualifications journeys by coaching and mentoring less experienced members of the finance community. It may seem a little cliché, but my career aspiration is to continue to grow, learn new things, contribute to any new future initiatives and the future of finance, while enjoying my journey along the way. I believe that if you enjoy what you are doing, doing things that make you tick and motivate you, you feel a sense of achievement, which does not get unnoticed by others around you. I aspire to be the best version of myself as I progress through my career over the coming years. What challenges do you envisage in the Accounting and Finance world? The current world is a very uncertain place with many unknowns. As finance professionals, we continuously try to find ways how to improve the accuracy of our forecasts, what insights we can bring to the table to guide future decision making and the longer term strategic direction of the business. Modelling the future is exceptionally hard in the current climate, therefore the greatest challenge that we, accounting and finance professionals, are going to face is how we can best adapt, utilise and learn new skills that can continue to influence the new normal and the new ways of working. Due to the uncertainty of the economy, there may be many future changes in legislation, rules and regulations, and the accounting standards, therefore one of the challenges for every finance professional is to ensure that we stay fully up to date with the latest developments and adapt accordingly. Finance teams are independent and objective advisors within every organisation, and to be able to support and challenge our organisations in the right way will require excellent skills and knowledge while the world navigates through the uncertainty. Any other comments? Thank you very much for inviting me to participate and share my experiences and thoughts with fellow ICAEW members and students. It’s during tough times like these that the finance community needs to make sure that we remain focused, support the businesses that we work for, while the world navigates through the uncertainty that surrounds us, and help influence the future of finance. The opportunity to share my career journey so far with the ICAEW community has been a great way to reflect on my own achievements and future career aspirations, and I hope the views that I shared have given a good insight into what it is like to work as a finance manager for one of the largest health and beauty retailers in the UK. Thank you to our author Egidija Albert on taking part in this blog series to enlighten fellow members on the job possibilities out there.