Often, when people talk about digital transformation in finance, they talk about the elimination of jobs. There are a lot of scary statistics out there. Some say that as much as 80% of what finance does today will be automated over the next 10 years.
But the story of the impact of digitization on finance is a lot more complex than just replacing people with machines. It’s about how human intelligence (HI) and artificial intelligence (AI) must effectively complement each other to create a new profile of a successful finance professional. And it’s up to finance executives and their teams to embrace the coming changes.
The quest for reshaping the finance talent profile won’t be easy or short. The Hackett Group’s research shows only 50% of finance organizations today have a digital transformation talent strategy . The majority agrees new technologies will have a profound effect on people’s roles, responsibilities and competencies. But 40% admit they have no clue what those new roles would look like. It’s time to find out.
Jean Furter, until last year the VP and Treasurer of Brocade, approached the exploration by joining his team on an intense brainstorming exercise. Each member had to benchmark his or her role against others in the company and outside it. They had to consider the advent of technology and how it will affect the way they do things and chart their roles going forward. The initial outcomes seemed grim. They found that much of what they were doing would likely be automated. But the discovery process was important. Furter said that his staff identified new roles and ways to develop their skills through training inside and outside the company.
Digitization will automate routine tasks, and at the same time augment finance’s ability to deliver enterprise value through better analytics and decision-support and more effective business partnering.
That means finance will have to develop two very different competencies:
First, it must become much more data and technology savvy. It needs to know how to interact with the new tools to get the most out of the technologies, for example enhance its analytics capabilities, or improve data-management. Ultimately, it’s not about learning how to write in “R” but how to utilize a robot to free up time to focus on more strategic projects. And it’s about doing more sophisticated analyses that produces greater insight into current and future performance.
Second, because routine tasks, data gathering, and reporting will take up less time, finance needs to expand its emphasis on collaborating with the businesses to ensure they meet their strategic objectives. That competency involves more than just being tech savvy or analytical. It means finance needs to evolve its interpersonal skills, like listening, storytelling and negotiation skills; it must be able to see the bigger picture and present its message within a business context. It has to understand the workings of the business. Finance professionals must do what AI can’t (for now): be quintessentially human.
Where can finance organization find these great new professionals? When we ask finance executives the vast majority say: “Right here at home.” Finance has had the greatest success in creating future-ready staff by tapping existing employees. It’s imperative that finance leaders establish comprehensive training and talent development programs to up-skill their staff and get them ready for a world of new roles and responsibilities. While there may be fewer humans in tomorrow’s finance function, those humans will be better trained and multi-skilled.