CFOs Do Not Know RA (and that is fine)

I have a LinkedIn profile. Often I regret that fact. LinkedIn is a fairly useful tool for keeping in touch with casual business acquaintances. It is also a curse. LinkedIn is a plague for any manager with a decent job title, who will soon discover he has several thousand ‘friends’ he has never met in person. All of these friends have great CVs and are politely wondering if there are any job vacancies. LinkedIn is also a curse for anyone not looking for a job, but hounded by recruitment consultants. These consultants find simple word matches between job specs and LinkedIn profiles, and then assault the owner of the profile. In this latter case, I have no idea why human beings are paid to execute the kind of search that Google does for free. Imagine if Amazon was run by recruitment consultants…

Amazon: Hello, is that Sunny?

Sony: This is Sony here.

Amazon: Sunny, I’ve been trying to reach you. You do video games, is that right?

Sony: We make video game consoles, and lots of other electronic consumer products.

Amazon: It says on your profile that you do playstations? And the playstations do games and they do DVDs, that’s right? And they do memory? And they include a controller? It’s very important that the console has a controller.

Sony: That’s right. The new Playstation 4 will be released in November. It incorporates a Blu-ray and DVD drive, a 500GB hard drive…

Amazon: November? It’s not available right away? My client wanted to do a deal right away.

Sony: Maybe you should look at our full product range. All the details can be found on our corporate website.

Amazon: So how soon could you ship Playstation 4? Also, can you put the Playstation 4 in your pocket, and play it in the back of a car?

Sony: If ordered now, shipments will arrive before Christmas. However, the Playstation 4 is not portable. If you want a portable…

Amazon: Okay, okay, our client may be able to live with that, so long as the graphics are really great. We have this client in Paris, France, who is thinking of investing in retail video games, and we think your console might match his requirements. Our client wants good graphics and a choice of games including the ones called ‘shoot-him-ups’. And you’re fully compliant with FIFO 14, right?

Sony: I think you mean FIFA 14. That game will be available for download, from the launch date. Excuse me, but it doesn’t sound like your client is very clear about its requirements.

Amazon: No, our client is really clear. The specification is for great graphics and really great games. And the playstation should definitely include the controller. And cables to plug into the television.

Sony: The Playstation 4 ships with all that and more. How many consoles is your retail client interested in?

Amazon: One console, so long as the price is less than $85.

Sony: [Sighs, hangs up.]

In my experience, there are three funny things about recruitment consultants who call around, looking to fill vacancies for RA managers. First, they pretend they have not been calling everyone else with a similar LinkedIn profile, even if you know everyone who has a similar LinkedIn profile, and your friends told you they received calls from the same recruitment consultant. Second, recruitment consultants deny that the job was first advertised 18 months ago, even though you know the first round of calls was made 18 months ago. And third, they insist the CFO, the guy the job will report to, is very clear about what he wants.

Think about that for a second. How long can it take to recruit a job, if the approach taken is to telephone around everyone with a vaguely matching LinkedIn profile? And yet, I get pestered about jobs that I know were first touted around over a year ago.

One cause of such abortive recruitment initiatives is that the recruiting managers’ expectations are neither clear, nor realistic, nor fixed. And that means the recruitment consultant is doing nothing of use, when trying to screen candidates. They will throw classic RA bingo phrases at the poor souls they speak to, including “devising a strategy for rolling out new software”, and “continually improving processes” and “increasing RA maturity”. How many people actually know what these words mean? The last phrase is my personal favourite. RA maturity started as a good idea to help people conceptualize the strategic challenges they faced. It has been degraded into meaningless mush by overuse and abuse. Is there anybody on the planet so stupid that they could not pretend to know how to increase RA maturity, even if they are totally incompetent at doing it? But recruiters ask for these things, as if they might help to filter competent candidates. So I get asked if I know about the RA maturity model, because the recruitment consultant has no idea that I wrote the bloody thing.

It never takes a year to find a suitable recruit for a job. If the job has decent pay – and many of these recruitment consultants are claiming to offer big salaries – then suitable candidates will be found in months, not years. What takes time is for an indecisive or warring management team to agree that they really want to recruit for a new position. What wastes time is reliance on vague or unrealistic requirements. As a result, a lot of time slips by as CFOs (or other recruiting CxOs) slowly discover there are no real people that matched their fantasy expectations, and who are good enough to appease their enemies in the management team. So it baffles me when recruiters insist that CFOs really know what they want. Here is some advice for recruiters searching for managers with experience in telecoms revenue assurance and fraud management:

CFOs do not know what they want.

This is not a criticism. If a CFO has heart disease, would I expect him to know who is the best heart surgeon, and what operation should be performed? Should the CFO wait a year, delaying any operation, because he refuses to admit that he cannot tell the difference between a heart surgeon and a bluffer in a white coat? Of course not. And yet CFOs, who have not been trained in RA, have not done RA, and know nothing about RA, claim to be sure they know what they want, when recruiting somebody to do RA.

Let us examine how the typical CFO ‘knows’ who is competent to manage a Fraud Management and/or Revenue Assurance team. Firstly, they will tell a dogsbody (somebody considered too junior for the vacancy, thus creating lasting resentment) to write the spec. The dogsbody, not knowing better, and being busy with his or her usual work, will scrape some words from a website, or the talkRA book, or from job profiles they have seen advertised elsewhere, and come up with a specification of what is needed. The CFO will pretend to add value by ‘reviewing’ this spec. Following the review, the spec is handed to the recruitment consultant, who may have never recruited anyone into a similar role. The recruitment consultant matches words on the spec to LinkedIn profiles. Before you know it, lots of people have wasted time by talking to recruitment consultants, but a year has passed and nobody has been recruited. The excuse given is that literally nobody has ‘convinced’ the CFO that they were good enough for the job. Meanwhile, people like me may be contacted by three separate recruiters, all offering the same vacancy, in ignorance of the other recruitment consultants and the past conversations I had about the same role…

In case you are wondering, I like to know what jobs are on offer and who is getting them. It means I can monitor whether telcos are investing more money into business assurance. It also means I can tip-off friends when good jobs become available. By the same token, I warn friends about jobs which have been touted around for ages but where the recruiting manager clearly has no clue.

One of the most baffling requirements, that comes up with painful frequency, is that the candidate for a supposedly senior management role in the finance division should know SQL. Why? Does every first-line report to a CIO know SQL? No. Does every first-line report to a CTO know SQL? Of course not. What makes SQL such an intrinsic feature of leading Fraud Management and RA teams, when nobody else in a CFO’s team is expected to know SQL? There is no possible scenario where a manager of a team improves a telco’s RA maturity by writing SQL queries themselves. That would be like the manager of a garage spending his time doing oil changes. Without wanting to offend any of you who write SQL queries, it makes no sense to expect the same person to spend half their time writing SQL, and the other half giving presentations to the board. And for the price of someone who is good at presenting to the board, or negotiating with vendors, the telco should be able to afford to recruit several guys who can write SQL queries. Or, this is exactly the kind of area where skills can be bought in from external sources as and when needed.

If CFOs intend to permanently employ people who will spend substantial amounts of time on writing SQL, then CIOs are justified in questioning what the heck the CFO is trying to accomplish. It is good for people with technology skills to work with people who have similar skills. The same is true of people with finance skills. What makes no sense is for CFOs to assemble miniature IT teams that report to them instead of reporting to somebody more suitable for overseeing such a group of people. Such a situation is especially bad for the employee. They may jump at the prospect of a job, without calculating the long-term damage they could be doing to their career. Put simply, technology people get developed and promoted in technology teams, whilst finance people get developed and promoted in finance teams. People who are recruited to a finance team because of their technology skills are risking damage to their career if they isolate themselves from the kinds of people who are most likely to train, develop, and promote them.

RA and Fraud Management are specialisms, just like any other specialism that reports to the CFO. And whilst they are specialisms, they also contain specialisms. Extracting data is a specialism. Negotiating with fellow managers about the implementation of a human-executed preventative control is also a specialism. A variety of specialists can be managed without trying to appoint a manager who is most expert at every specialism they oversee. If CFOs are fearful of allowing delegation, they obstruct the acquisition of necessary skills. And this is another reason why recruitment of Fraud and RA managers can take so long, even though the recruiting consultant usually insists that the CFO is keen to get somebody started as soon as possible.

The only way a CFO might learn about RA is if they have a good RA manager who works for them, and explains what RA is. Of course, that means the CFO got lucky. But it feels wrong to rely upon luck. What can we do to change that?

Patients do not decide who is competent to be a heart surgeon, or what a heart surgeon should do. Fellow doctors decide that. Such is the nature of many professions. And CFOs cannot claim ignorance of this phenomenon – most CFOs are qualified accountants, and they know why accountants are best placed to judge other accountants. Many CFOs do not know RA, and we should be realistic about how much they might be expected to know. We should not want to line up like ducks in a shooting gallery, hoping our LinkedIn profiles will attract the attention of know-nothing recruiters, who work on behalf of know-nothing CFOs. The job profiles and competencies of fraud management and RA practitioners should be influenced by our qualified peers. So whilst I make fun of recruiters and CFOs, I know who is most to blame for not doing the hard work involved in defining a real profession. And when I write of a real profession, I mean one with genuine quality standards that will drive better job security, improved job prospects, more realistic job requirements, better training and higher pay. The fault primarily lies with our own community of practitioners. If we do not define the skills needed by a professional, then we rely on luck. And if you rely on luck, you may not get what you deserve.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.