Skip to main content

The finance workforce in a digital world

Preparing to modernise your finance workforce

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 fulfil 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 organisations 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 realised 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.

  • Revisit expectations.
    Which finance customers need renewed attention?
  • Redefine deliverables.
    What do those customers actually want from Finance?
  • Retool machines.
    What routine information could be made available automatically to business users?
  • Rethink operations.
    How could shared services add more value? What about centers of excellence?
  • Reimagine talent sourcing.
    Where might you find untapped talent—within and beyond the business?

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 organisations 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 organisations 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 specialising 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 prioritising technology investments. Here are some actions you can take right now to get started.

  • Name a leader in Finance as your “chief human resources officer.” Find someone who understands the business, is passionate about the future of work and can advocate for Finance with human resources (HR).
  • Create mentoring programmes. With as many as four generations in the workforce today, there are ample opportunities for older and younger workers to learn from each other.
  • Encourage rotations. Set up job or role rotations for finance staff both within and outside the function and across financial disciplines. Workers gain exposure to different parts of the business and a more rounded view of Finance.
  • Assign people to special projects. They can offer great opportunities for employees in non-leadership roles to gain leadership experience, acquire new skills and build their networks.
  • Add AI to sourcing. Predictive analytics can evaluate the quality of different recruiting sources and forecast the results of tweaking certain qualifications, like required years of experience.
  • Redesign the work environment. As familiar as cubicle farms may be, they are typically designed with full-time permanent employees in mind. With the rise of tasks being performed by contingent and contract workers, make sure your workplace accommodates a variety of flexible arrangements.
  • Update job postings to attract digitally sophisticated recruits. Given the evolving nature of finance jobs, emphasise proficiency with analytical software, data management and data analysis.
  • Look in your own backyard. Consider collaborating with local universities to build programmes that yield candidates with both finance acumen and technical skills.

Finance + others

If modernisation 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 organisation 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.

Moving forward

CFOs who want to accelerate their readiness to operate in a digital world have a clear path forward. Build your brand. Visualise 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 modernisation will be disruptive. But the payoff for those who get it right can make it worthwhile. It’s the surest path towards creating the finance organisation your business leaders really want.

Download the full report

Did you find this useful?

Thanks for your feedback

If you would like to help improve further, please complete a 3-minute survey