Digital technologies can help your team operate better, faster, and at a lower cost than you might have imagined. But it has to be the right team. And there’s the rub. CFOs need to align today’s Finance talent to the promise of tomorrow’s technologies—while still maintaining a workforce that can fulfill the company’s basic financial and regulatory requirements. That’s no easy feat. But those who get it right stand to benefit enormously.
Humans + machines
As you’ve seen elsewhere in our Crunch time series, technology has been a catalyst for much of our thinking. Finance organizations today are rapidly adopting new tools and capabilities, with cloud making it easier than ever to try new things and implement them. But that doesn’t mean technology should be the most important thing on a CFO’s plate. For all the new benefits and capabilities technology brings, it’s still people who shape business outcomes.
One CFO we spoke with had this insight: “In 2017, we jumped heavy into automation and artificial intelligence (AI), starting new projects right and left. A year later, we realized we were on the wrong path. What we really needed to do was stop, take a breath, and focus on our workforce.”
In other words, technology without talent can fail, but talent with leadership direction can overcome technology shortfalls. Another CFO added: “We’re just beginning our journey. We have the learning platforms in place, and the leadership culture and mindset are there. But the softer skill sets—the ability to understand other people’s motivations and help them work through change—don’t exist broadly across the finance community.”
Present + future
As we enter the third decade of the century, CFOs know that automation in Finance and technology are providing opportunities for transforming the finance function. They know digital is happening and that their people need to evolve accordingly. But what this means for specific functions and processes is less clear. The devil is in the details.
Meanwhile, CFOs know one thing for certain: Business partnering will continue to be exceedingly important. Yes, technology tools like automated reporting will give business leaders faster access to important information, but the real value of Finance still comes down to helping others interpret the data, so they can use it to make informed decisions.
Here’s a blueprint some CFOs are following as they try to balance basic regulatory and shareholder requirements with the need to generate deeper business insights.
Build + borrow + buy
To deliver tech-enabled work in the Finance of the future, your first instinct might be to build your workforce by upskilling your team through training and development. That means identifying people critical to future operations and ensuring they get the learning experiences they need to step up. Upskilling should be part of any future workforce plan, but it probably won’t be enough to meet all your talent needs.
In addition to building, you might borrow resources from other parts of the business. Do you need a storyteller who can bring financial information to life? This role is becoming increasingly important across all aspects of Finance. Talk to your marketing and public relations people to gauge available talent. Do you need a technical person to drive big automation projects? Check with your manufacturing colleagues. They may have an experienced leader who is eager to take on new challenges.
Finally, it may be necessary to buy workforce resources, including robots and machine learning tools, on the open market, either through full-scale outsourcing or targeted hiring of employees, contractors, and freelancers. Buying talent may be part of your workforce solution, but be prepared for intense competition. Finance organizations around the world are looking for similar kinds of people, and these individuals are being pursued by other functions and technology companies.
Fits + starts
There’s no question Finance will continue to offer significant career opportunities, but those opportunities may be different than today’s. So it’s important that your people understand what the future may hold. As finance organizations become flatter and more dependent on technology, traditional career paths will become less linear. Those paths might even extend outside of Finance.
Instead of moving from a contributor role in accounts receivable to a management role in accounting, a future career might evolve circuitously. A financial planning analyst might, for instance, move into information technology (IT) to round out their technology skills. From there, they may move into commercial or marketing analytics—and then back into Finance with the goal of a business-unit CFO role.
The key is to help ensure your people get the experience needed to understand financials, the business, and technology. Critical finance jobs in the future are likely to demand a wholistic business education, as opposed to specializing in one area, like accounting or treasury.
Drive + thrive
Figuring out who will thrive in a digital world—and how to prepare them—may be tougher than prioritizing technology investments. Here are some actions you can take right now to get started.
Finance + others
If modernization seems like a moving target, it is. But it’s not moving fast. You have time to work hand-in-hand with internal departments to cover your bases. Start by getting the attention of your HR organization and work with them to articulate the new competencies you require. HR should also be able to help you determine the mix of build, borrow, or buy that’s most effective.
When it comes to developing the “machine” part of your workforce and automation in Finance, IT can be invaluable. Use their experience in automation and big data to guide decisions about technology investments and integration. And be sure to keep your risk, compliance, and audit colleagues apprised each step of the way. You’ll need their support from both a regulatory and a change management perspective.
CFOs who want to accelerate their readiness to operate in a digital world have a clear path forward. Build your brand. Visualize the future. Understand the mix of humans and machines you need to meet changing expectations. Update roles and job descriptions. And, importantly, make sure your next hire is ready now for the Finance of the future you’re planning to create.
Like any transformation, workforce modernization will be disruptive. But the payoff for those who get it right can make it worthwhile. It’s the surest path toward creating the finance organization your business leaders really want.