The changing finance landscape: heavier workloads but new opportunities

The financial landscape is changing and chief financial officers (CFOs) are having to reflect on their future priorities, resource planning, innovation and information systems. As a result the finance function itself is headed into the biggest era of transformation: essentially it is changing to continue to meet the expectations of the business, balanced with the need to achieve operational finance objectives.

In recent years, emerging new technologies have allowed the finance function to adopt the automation of processes. New technological innovations have completely transformed internal finance operations and as a result, are changing the nature of the finance function of the future and the role that it will play in the broader financial landscape.

Priorities of the CFO

A report produced by Robert Half, entitled ‘Finance 2020: closer than you think’, found that the top two priorities for chief financial officers (CFOs) right now are ‘meeting regulatory compliance mandates’ and ‘keeping pace with technological change’. However, looking ahead CFOs will also expect their finance teams to focus on where they can most influence the direction of the wider business.

Finance professionals will need to work alongside the business to identify ways to improve efficiency and support profitable growth. This will entail supporting commercial business opportunities; managing finance efficiently – leading to a higher volume of work; as well as communicating with internal and external stakeholders. The scope and opportunity to add value is there for finance professionals to seize and develop their careers, though this brings with it another challenge.

The impacts on talent management

It should come as no surprise that with the growing demand of skilled finance professionals, there is an ever growing skills shortage. Over the last few years, CFOs who report challenges in sourcing and attracting the skilled finance candidates they need has consistently remained above 85%; indeed currently this figure is closer to 90% for UK CFOs.

Resource planning and specifically developing a talent pipeline has been an important aspect for finance leaders planning the future of their finance function. Accounting and finance has affirmed its position as a strategic partner to the business and, as such, it is increasingly important for accounting and finance professionals to have exceptional soft skills as well as technical ability.

Finance professionals at all levels will need the right blend of both soft skills and technical competence. Financial software packages, accounting and report standards and regulation are quickly becoming the must-haves, but on their own won’t be enough. They will also need to sharpen their leadership, communication and commercial acumen abilities to keep pace, and this shift is already evident among candidates who are in-demand today.

Skills for finance and accounting professionals to add to their development plan

Preparing your finance team for the future

Understand the skills of your team:
This is a key starting point to give you an understanding of where your finance function has existing capabilities. Use questionnaires or face-to-face discussions to determine the technical skills and knowledge currently available within your accounting and finance team.

Invest in new skills:
Encourage your accounting and finance team to learn new skills through targeted training and development. This can include formal training held in-house or by independent vendors. For example with the requirement for increased knowledge and expertise with the latest financial software packages, your software or hardware provider may also provide competitively priced certification programmes or share details of suitable courses, seminars and conferences.
Alternatively, support staff to undertake their own training by providing study leave and reimbursing costs on completion of approved programs.

Consider possible career paths:
Work with your employees to determine their career goals and offer a view on how they will be able to achieve these goals with your organisation. Latest research suggests that this may be the solution to reducing voluntary staff turnover. Of the 89% of financial services executives who are concerned about losing top performers, 68% noted career development opportunities as a key desire of their employees.

Offer a mentoring programme:
Mentoring can be a low cost way to improve the technology capabilities of your finance and accounting staff. Younger workers and particularly millennials are more accustomed to newer technology; so don’t overlook the possibility of reverse mentoring, where junior team members act as mentors for more senior colleagues.

Keep an eye on the ‘skills-application’ gap:
As businesses look to implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) or similar digital solutions, it may involve a steep learning curve for accounting and finance professionals. While learning new ways of working and how new processes will impact the day-to-day responsibilities, your team may need extra support to ensure they have a chance to grasp these technologies.

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