- Colleen Chapman CA has become an effective business partner by building on her accounting skills with further study and experience.
- She says accountants must be able to translate data into actionable insights, and tell that story in ways their clients understand.
- Building relationships based on trust is the most valuable asset to cultivate.
By Ben Hurley
An over-abundance of data washes through today’s business world. For finance professionals wanting to become valuable business partners, an ability to convert all that data into clear information and actionable insights for managers is a vital skill.
It’s important for aspiring business leaders to focus on the end customer. And for people working in finance, those customers can be found internally as well as externally.
“Knowing your audience is really, really important, and you just can’t beat having good communication skills and being a great listener,” says Colleen Chapman CA, general manager CTP at QBE Insurance.
She spoke to Acuity about how learning to meet this communication challenge has spurred her career’s progress.
“You just can’t beat having good communication skills and being a great listener.”
Building skills on the job
Colleen Chapman CA
Chapman worked in a range of large and small firms after qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1992, and says that experience built important skills. Moving into the corporate world in the mid 1990s, she discovered her dealings with regulators, actuaries and executives laid a useful foundation for dealing with a range of internal business stakeholders.
Through the early 2000s, she worked her way up the ranks at Allianz Australia, becoming financial controller in June 2008 after returning from maternity leave. This was a “huge stepping stone”, she says.
“That was a big leap of faith for the CFO at the time to put me into that role, because I was still working part-time. I had been on maternity leave and that was unheard of at that stage to be doing such a senior role on a part-time basis,” she recalls.
After almost a dozen years with Allianz Australia, and a year with GE Insurance, she moved to QBE Insurance in 2013 as head of financial control – a much broader role than she had previously held. She became general manager CTP in August 2017, overseeing more than A$700 million of annual revenue from the firm’s compulsory third-party insurance business.
The benefits of further education
Some additional education assisted along the way. In the mid 2000s, Chapman completed a Master of Business and Technology at the University of New South Wales while at Allianz, and in 2015 she did the Company Directors Course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors while working at QBE.
“That was a good learning development for me,” she says. “It gave me more of a director’s point of view. As I was doing reporting through to the board, I had a better feel for the kinds of things they would be looking at, so I could provide good information.”
Chapman never had a formal mentor but did have her advocates. It was usually informal arrangements with women used to juggling their careers with other competing demands.
“Those advocates have normally been my line manager, and they have pushed for me to be able to take on committees or other projects that I wouldn’t have thought to take on myself.”
Being trusted is crucial for business partnering
She says people skills and the ability to build relationships based on trust are among the most valuable assets she has worked to cultivate. You can’t buy a good relationship of trust, she says.
“Not being frightened to say you don’t know the answer and that you can get back to someone, that’s a really important people skill to learn,” Chapman says.
Finance professionals in particular need to be wary of lacing their words with too much jargon, she warns.
“People don’t care about what general ledger system that you use and the intricacies of how that works,” Chapman says. “It’s very important to you as an accountant, but from a business point of view, you just want to get the information and we don’t really care how it’s gone about.”
“Not being frightened to say you don’t know the answer and that you can get back to someone, that’s a really important people skill to learn.”