Finance people moving back to Australia

My notes on finance people moving back to Australia. I worked overseas for more than ten years, and came back to Australia in April 2008. This article contrasts my experience of Finance in mainland Europe vs Australia.

Summary of points I will cover:

  • How is international experience perceived in Australia?
  • How is the role of Finance different between European and Australia?
  • Culture shock and/or changes in the past ten years.
  • What parts of your overseas experience should you emphasise?
  • Head-hunters and agencies
  • Resume and cover letter advice
  • Job search etiquette
  • Good websites
  • Networking
  • LinkedIn

The context

I write only of my own experience. I was away from Australia for a long time, more then ten years. I changed my career to finance while overseas.

I worked in Asia and Europe for the same company, Philips. My roles became senior. However, on returning to Australia I wanted to work for an SME.

What does international experience offer?

International experience develops specific technical skills, and it exposes you to different ideas about the role of Finance, different markets and different approaches to leadership and people management.

(1) Some of the specific technical skills are currency risk management, transfer pricing, international taxation, different accounting regimes (example, US GAAP), NYSX listing rules, Sarbanes Oxley, international trade issues such as WTO anti-dumping regimes

(2) In my case, I worked with a world-class finance function positioned at the centre of the business, much more proactive than more traditional compliance and transaction oriented roles.

(3) Markets and competitors are often more sophisticated in the highly competitive major markets of Europe and the US. For example, the large retailers of Europe are much more advanced in their requirements of suppliers than Australia. Many overseas trends (such as category killer stores like the Home Depot) move to Australia.

How in international experience perceived in Australia?

Often, first class international experience is only "a nice to have". Not more. Many Australian companies don't look overseas very much. Multinationals usually have offices in Australia to serve the Australian/NZ market; Asian markets are served out of Hong Kong or Singapore. SMEs are not very export oriented in general, and the booming Australian market of the last ten years has probably only encouraged this attitude. There are exceptions of course, and if you want your overseas experience to influece the hiring decision, look for these exceptions.

The other a

How is the role of Finance different between European and Australia?

European finance roles are much closer to the business. The finance leader is number 2 and is invovled in almost every key decision. Finance leads the strategic planning process, long term investement decisons, customer offers, effectively overseas the supply chain and distriubtion operations, and so on. Sarbanes-oxley caused a significant increase in compliance activities. Finance leaders usually don't consider themselves accountants. This is not some kind of fancy conceit. They really are not accountants and don't have accounting degrees. Tax and listing rules compliance is handled by country-specific experts usually in shared service centres. Also, most transactional work is outsourced (example: at Philips, vendor invoices are couriered to Poland; they aren't even handled at local sites). 

In Australia, Finance is much more traditional. The role of influence in the business is less, and the CFO is expected to be strong at tax,  ASX listing rules compliance, and  Corporations Act compliance. There are reasons for this.

For most roles, your international experience will only come into the picture after the local regulatory compliance issues are sorted out.