The fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry has incredible prospects in Bangladesh due to the country's large and growing population augmented with an accelerating gross domestic product (GDP). This indicates that shareholders can have more faith in investing in a company within this sector and job seekers can find ample opportunities in this industry. However, the nature of FMCG breeds several challenges for its professionals. Frequent purchases, low involvement and low expenditure on the part of the consumer leads to firms having to maintain high volumes, low margins, extensive supply chain networks and have a high stock turnover. These characteristics pose a lot of challenges for finance professionals in particular. Getting to know about this is essential for any aspiring corporate as the FMCG is a promising industry and becoming a finance professional gives one's career a lot of options.
Md Abrar Mahin Khan from Square Pharmaceuticals said, "The current state of this industry is a challenge to any financial professional working at the top level. Our FMCG sector is not quality driven and regulations are not strict enough to prevent food adulteration. Thus, the main challenge for anyone at the top of the company or the company's finance department is to propagate a quality driven culture within the organisation maintaining the required return on investment (ROI)."
Finance professionals deal with solid numeric data. Everything they present must be precise and error free. And this amplifies in difficulty when considering the nature of the FMCG industry mentioned earlier. Shabab Ahmed Reza of Glaxosmithkline elaborates on this, "My work is dependent on both supply chain and the finance department. As a result, I am accountable to both. Whatever number I generate needs to have a story, a valid one. A tad blunder can take a huge toll on my Excel file and ultimately tarnish my reputation. So it's very important for any financial professional to meticulously handle the files and scrutinise any anomaly. Lastly, the monthly financial closing is a real pain. Having to stay till late at night during the month closing has become a norm rather than an exception."
FMCG companies have a wide range of products in their portfolio with different pricing strategy of each during different times. This results in a big challenge for finance majors just starting out with their careers in FMCG companies. Sameen Alam of Unilever says, "I think the challenges are mainly the technical complexity of how finance in a large organisation works. There's a steep learning curve as to the technicalities and ways of working within finance and the role it plays in governing the entire organisation." Adding more about this particular issue, Sabrina Rahman of British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) mentioned, "One factor that I feel prevalent is the underutilisation of technological tools by finance professionals, especially in cases of reporting and data analysis. We're yet to go a long way in terms of this avenue." There are software specifically tailored for finance functions, the proper use of these can give more accurate forecasts, easier to understand reports resulting in greater coordination between departments and overall improvement in business performance.
Finally Nusrat Farzana Rumu, a global graduate of finance in BATB cleared up a few misconceptions and identified some key challenges, "A good FMCG finance manager must possess the commercial acumen of a marketer, and analytical skills for formulating financial strategies. This can seem overwhelming to people who are unaware of how it's actually like to work in the finance department of a fast-paced multinational company (MNC). Most people think working in finance means just crunching numbers from the comfort of their own desks. It is actually not quite the case. You'll always need some niche analytical skills, combined with strong negotiation and interpersonal skills. FMCG finance managers are the advisors/business partners. If you can't pursue the function such as - marketing, operations you're partnering with, then you'd be in big trouble." She further mentioned that an FMCG finance manager's role involves so much more than just record keeping and budget management.
As a strategic business partner to the team, a finance manager needs to be able to challenge ideas that are not commercially viable, while being well-versed on the value that adds to the bottom line of the business. As a result, understanding the market, business and products can often prove to be a daunting challenge. Hence, analytical skills combined with commercial acumen are imperative for anyone aspiring to pursue a career in FMCG finance. To demonstrate competence on both fronts, professional accreditations such as CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), learning to use software like SAP--an enterprise resource planning software, BI (business intelligence) etc. come in handy.
The writer is a second year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org