Meet the Faculty: Strategic Finance Professor Dr. Kevin Schieuer
Dr. Kevin Schieuer is a Professor in the College of Business at Bellevue University. He teaches in the Strategic Finance program and focuses on principles of finance, advanced corporate finance, financial strategies, cash/treasury management, risk management, investments, and economics.
How would you explain the field or program area of “Strategic Finance” to someone who’s less familiar with all the various business education sub-disciplines?
Finance, particularly capital budgeting and the resource allocation decisions of finance, has a role similar to an orchestra conductor, with the goal of orchestrating an organization’s resources toward the common goal of long-term value creation.
Fundamentally, finance is concerned with coordinating and utilizing financial capital and other resources to best achieve and sustain long-term value creation for businesses, organizations, and society. In this regard, finance by its very nature is strategic, and one could argue that “strategic finance” is even redundant.
A few years ago, I gave a presentation at the Association for Financial Professionals’ annual conference titled “Financial Professionals as Strategic Leaders.” The essence of that presentation was the inherently strategic role of finance and financial professionals. Long-term, sustainable success and value creation in businesses and organizations requires sub-disciplines and departments to work together efficiently to achieve common strategic goals.
As an analogy to a bicycle wheel, finance essentially sits at the hub of these sub-disciplines and departments, as a clearinghouse of cash flows, information, and ideas from across the entire organization. Finance generally knows more about the entire business or organization than any other unit does because all financial resources used or created by the sub-disciplines flows through the finance area, together with associated informational aspects of those cash flows. This positions finance and financial professionals to have some of the best and most holistic perspectives, insights and understanding, as well as key analytical knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), relevant to the business and to long-term sustainable strategy decisions.
What relationship does strategic finance have to strategic planning? How do the two functions overlap, if at all, or how do they differ?
As noted above, strategic finance is inherently related to and overlaps with strategic planning. There are elements of financial management that are operational in nature, but many of the core topics of finance are strategic, as they encompass long-term major decisions that are not easily reversed and consequently affect the very nature of a business or organization for years to come.
Fundamental financial decisions such as capital structure address short and long-term financial resource availability and strategies to have reliable financial resources available to sustain operations and strategic investment opportunities. The evaluation and decision making regarding strategic investment opportunities is the subject of capital budgeting, another strategic finance core topic. Capital budgeting analysis and decision-making literally defines the long-term assets and thus the very nature of a business or organization. These and other finance topics have the common strategic goal of optimizing and sustaining the value creation mission of businesses and organizations.
Most of the core financial management topics such as capital budgeting, financial performance evaluation, governance, agency and incentive dynamics, financial markets dynamics, enterprise and portfolio risk management, etc. all align with strategic decision making and planning.
Finance is a field that’s always been important to business. What if anything has changed in the field since you began teaching it?
The fundamental core concepts and implication of strategic finance have a very long half-life, meaning they remain relevant, applicable, and valuable for a very long time.
The core fundamental focus on the applications and implications of concepts such as valuation, value creation, financial markets, capital resources, enterprise risk management, portfolio and investment dynamics, efficient cash management, data analysis, financial performance analysis, business and financial ethics, efficient and effective communication, etc. has not changed dramatically.
What has changed is that competition, globalization, technology, and other advances speeds up the business cycle and the cash conversion cycle and reduces room for errors in decision-making. This accentuates the value and importance of fundamentally sound financial management and decision-making knowledge across businesses and organizations. Businesses and organizations that promote an enterprise-wide, holistic knowledge and understanding of fundamentals of financial management and strategy are best positioned to compete in the fast-paced, competitive, global marketplace.
When people hear the word “finance” they often think it translates to “math” and “budgets.” What else is involved in a finance degree?
To the surprise of many finance students, the discipline of finance is much more conceptual, qualitative, and logic-oriented than students often initially anticipate.
There are certainly plenty of math and numbers inherent in finance, but there are many qualitative and abstract concepts, such as agency relationships, incentive theory, asymmetric information, signaling principles, market behaviors and informational dynamics, governance, business and financial ethics, effective communications, etc.
We also encourage students to reflect upon the roles of business and finance in serving and elevating humanity and society. These topics often really click with graduate students who have often had prior experiences in finance courses that were in some cases intensely focused on the math and unfortunately reinforced the students’ prior aversion to finance. Many of these students comment that finance is much more “exciting and interesting” than they had previously experienced and thought. That is inspiring and signals a seed taking root, being nurtured, and starting to grow, as the student becomes self-motivated to learn more about a subject they previously avoided. It is like seeing an ember ignite into a fire and love of learning.
You earned engineering degrees before you turned to business education and the field of finance. What led you to switch fields?
That's a good question. I have always been interested in business and, in fact, as a youth I had a very small business raising broiler chickens for local families and a caterer before I got too busy with high school sports and other activities.
In college, I started out studying business as an accounting major for a couple years and worked 20-30 hours a week for about 3 ½ years at a law firm, where I learned much about business dynamics. I also enjoyed math and physics classes.
(My) Advisers and faculty encouraged me to pursue the sciences, thus I graduated with degrees in math, physics, and business administration. I considered law school, but ended up pursuing an employment opportunity in a research lab with funding for earning graduate degrees in electrical engineering. While in engineering, I also earned a real estate license, and several of my engineering colleagues pursued various business paths.
My business interests continued and, ultimately, I decided to switch to business and that finance was best suited to my interests and skills. Through some teaching experiences, I learned how much I enjoyed university level teaching and thus I pursued an MBA and a PhD in Finance with the goal to teach finance at a university similar to Bellevue University.
Inside of strategic finance there are topics such as measurement, reporting, technology, management, governance and more. Are all of those aspects included in the Bellevue University curriculum?
Yes. These are all important topics that are addressed in courses across our finance curriculum.
In addition to these important topics, our finance curriculum emphasizes certain elements of strategic finance and financial management, including key fundamentals topics such as long-term value creation through responsible market capitalism and the role financial decision-making plays in creating and sustaining value for business and society.
Our finance curriculum has a perspective of “main street” finance versus “Wall Street” finance, meaning we focus on financial management and strategy principles that enhance financial decision making and value creation for businesses and organizations across a broad range of industries, versus being more narrowly focused on the investments industry or Wall Street financing.
We also emphasize holistic enterprise risk management and cash and treasury management fundamentals, which are all consistent with and support of the value creation and sustainability goals of businesses and organizations. We stress the importance of communication of financial concepts and analysis and encourage students to reflect upon the roles of business and finance in serving and elevating humanity and society.
Our finance curriculum emphasizes certain elements of strategic finance and financial management, including key fundamentals topics such as long-term value creation through responsible market capitalism and the role financial decision-making plays in creating and sustaining value for business and society.
How are issues like sustainability, supply chain and digital transformation affecting the strategic finance field?
These are all key topics and concepts for businesses and organizations operating in the fast-paced, competitive, global environment. Finance integrates the concepts of sustainability and supply chain dynamics, as those are inherently part of the value creation, optimization, and sustainability objective.
It doesn’t make sense to talk about value creation, optimization, and sustainability, without also addressing implications of holistic enterprise risk management, which also entails supply chain / network considerations. These topics complement each other and work together to enhance sustainability and supply / value chains and networks. There is also a distinct topic of supply chain finance, which is addressed some in our curriculum. Students have opportunities to investigate specialty topics such as this in more depth if that is more relevant to their career aspirations.
Digital transformations have also affected financial operations, particularly in the areas of cash and treasury management of order, payment, and collection processes, and in enhanced data analysis relevant to nearly all aspects of financial management and strategy. Treasury and cash management practices have been progressing through the digital transformation of operations for many years, though Global Finance reports that approximately 40-50% of businesses still use manual processes (Dzinkowski, 2022).
In the context of digital currencies, this is still a bit of a “Wild West” area, which often has a speculative nature to it. Topics with more speculative characteristics and relatively high volatility and risk are not the core fundamental, long half-life of knowledge value topics we emphasize. Students have opportunities to investigate specialty topics such as this in more depth if that is more relevant to their career aspirations.
How do strategic finance professionals typically start their careers inside organizations? How do they typically advance?
Finance professionals may begin their careers in finance-oriented industries such as banking, insurance, financial services, or investments, or they may start out as business analysts, credit analysts, or financial / business managers across a broad range of businesses and industries.
An advantage for financial professionals is that every business or organization, regardless of the industry, needs quality financial management and people with financial knowledge and skills, and thus career opportunities are broad. Students, particularly at the graduate level, frequently seek to further their financial management skills as they recognize the important role finance plays in creating and sustaining long-term business/organizational value and success, as well as career advancement.
Career paths for students of finance and finance professionals are often broader and more open-ended, though a bit less specifically defined than some business disciplines. For example, there is a relatively well-defined career path for an accounting major with a CPA license. There are several certification opportunities in finance as well, such as the Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) (formerly Certified Cash Manager), Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) certificate, Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Financial Risk Manager, actuary certification, and others. Though they may not all have the name recognition of a CPA, these are valuable certifications which enhance career opportunities.
Our finance curriculum provides a solid foundation for students to build upon as they prepare for certification opportunities that best fit their career aspirations.
What advice would you give to students considering a career in strategic finance?
It is important for students to reflect upon their interests, intellectual strengths, and career aspirations. Given that finance requires reasonable quantitative skills, an analytical mindset, and a relatively high attention to detail, it is important for students to consider how well this aligns with their personal attributes and aspirations.
Although finance and accounting are distinct and can have different career paths, finance professionals benefit from a solid accounting foundation and thus it is important for students to enjoy and feel comfortable with accounting and numbers. Assuming students are comfortable with these foundations of finance, students are encouraged to read and learn as much as they can about finance in general, including the broad range of applications of financial management skills outside of the traditional finance industries of insurance, banking, investments, financial services, etc.
You entered the education field during the advent of online courses. What do you remember from those early days?
I believe online education plays a significant role in elevating and advancing humanity and society by providing quality educational opportunities to many who previously simply did not have any accessible options.
Providing valuable educational opportunities to students who previously didn’t have any feasible options was one of my best memories from the early days. We might take for granted that we have students from all over the country or world or remote locations in classes today, but that was an exciting development in the early days of our online programs. The online opportunities expanded in a very positive way the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of learners in our classes.
From the beginning, Bellevue University has been a quality leader in online education by assisting and facilitating dedicated faculty, and by providing top-notch institutional support services and resources for making dynamic and interactive online learning successful.
I believe the quality of Bellevue University’s online course environment has been impressive. Online students sometimes are concerned about the level of engagement online, but they soon learn the opportunities for and levels of engagement online are extremely high and often surpass residential classes. Online students can asynchronously interact literally 24x7 with classmates from all over the world, while a residential class is traditionally much more limited in time and place.
What is the most satisfying, or gratifying, aspect of your role at Bellevue University?
One of the most gratifying aspects of working at Bellevue University is knowing that serving our students and society to enhance opportunities to elevate individuals is literally in the DNA of Bellevue University as an institution.
This core fundamental philosophy is an important and valuable reminder that our work really does matter, as we can and should have a profound effect on the people and communities we serve. It is rewarding and meaningful to be a part of an institution and university community of dedicated colleagues that truly values this mission.
Additionally, I have grown in my appreciation for a career studying and teaching finance. Beyond the quantitative and functional roles of finance, there is an appreciation for the significant and important roles of finance and business in serving and elevating humanity. These reflections truly give one’s work meaning and that is gratifying.
Dzinkowski, R. (2022, April) Corporate Finance Working Capital: More Disruption and Risk. Global Finance, p.23-24.