As treasury technology or “TreasuryTech” continues to evolve rapidly, finance leaders globally are looking to address a skills shortage that could hamper their efforts to leverage it to the maximum.
Further evidence that corporates are looking to ramp up efforts to exploit new technology has emerged with a global study of finance leaders showing they are rethinking what constitutes finance talent, with expertise in data analytics seen as especially vital for treasuries of the future.
The study by Workday, a NASDAQ-listed provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources worldwide, gauged the views of 670 CFOs and senior finance leaders around the world. In terms of priority skills for the future, they believe data science is the most important emerging role for finance functions across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific, with statistics and data security reported as second and third. Other skills highlighted include IT delivery specialists; behavioural scientists; systems specialists; and roboticists skilled in developing automation within finance.
The survey “Finance Redefined: Workday Global Finance Leader Survey,” says it is becoming increasingly clear that technologies—both established and emerging—are transforming finance functions. It says: “Cloud computing can reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase efficiency. Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain can provide real-time data analytics, make predictions, and help streamline processes such as reconciliations.”
Commenting on the findings, Naved Qureshi, Associate Partner, Finance Transformation at IBM says companies are, in particular, becoming more and more interested in using data in different ways and to create new business models. This growing trend means “finance [functions] need to transition into a much more digital and rapid service to support the business.”
But having the right technologies isn’t enough. Finance leaders also need the right talent to be able to use them effectively to serve the business. The survey says that as finance shifts more into a business partnership role, the need for data analysis skills will grow, and prompt the creation of new roles within the function.
The Workday study echoes other similar findings. According to the Accenture report, “Meet the Finance 2020 Workforce,” while traditional finance roles will evolve, newer roles will become more important, such as data scientists, scenario planners, market makers and social/behavioural scientists.
Elsewhere, an EY study, “Is the future of finance new technology or new people?” also highlighted critical skills for the future finance team, with 57% of respondents saying that building skills in predictive and prescriptive analytics was critical for the future, while 55% noted the importance of improving digital technology skills in areas such as mobility, cloud and SaaS.
Other key findings from the Workday survey, carried out on behalf of the company by independent research firm Longitude, include:
31% of CFOs surveyed cited regulatory pressures as the major challenge stunting innovation across the finance function.
75% or more of CFOs in the UK say that CFOs and CIOs need to collaborate to drive technology innovation in their organisations.
69% of UK finance leaders face tough competition to recruit the best analytics and digital talent.
In terms of areas of focus and development, the UK differed from European and global respondents by prioritising online and mobile learning programmes (54%). France and Germany CFOs meanwhile were centred on how they could maximise the use of existing systems.
The extensive use of advanced analytics for financial reporting has a very mixed picture. The UK is lagging behind its European counterparts at 38%, while France at (54%) and Germany at (50%), significantly exceed the global average of 40%.
“It’s going to be important to have some sort of data science skills, or at least a general understanding,” says IBM’s Qureshi. “If you’re going to do cognitive automation for predictive analytics, you’re going to need some statistical skills inside the organisation to interpret the data.”
Some finance teams are already looking to develop the skills of existing personnel before recruiting from the market. “I might slowly bring in someone like a data scientist,” says Rick Rodick, CFO at outsourcing and IT services provider TELUS International. “I’d rather repurpose or utilise my existing finance team first to see what they can do with better tools, and then maybe we can see what value data scientists can bring.”
These changes in finance come alongside a more general broadening of digital skills across the organisation, explains Bill Briggs, CTO at Deloitte. “We’ve been telling the technology folks for decades, ‘You have to become more business savvy and speak the language of the business,’” he says. “We’re now seeing this interesting shift towards saying that the business needs to be more technology savvy.”
According to the Workday study, respondents reported that roboticists are the least important emerging role in finance. However, this is likely to change as technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA) continue to evolve.
“A lot of people are talking about RPA just from an efficiency standpoint, but a few are taking a step further, exploring artificial intelligence in areas such as FP&A and forecasting early warnings,” says Qureshi. He notes that RPA can bring a 70% reduction in manual work, while AI can generate 15% to 20% productivity gains. He adds, however, that the real business case lies not in productivity gains, but in “the better decisions you’re going to make.”
RPA and AI could also free up finance teams to do more value-added work. Accenture’s “Finance 2020: Death by digital” report predicts that the use of robotics will automate or eliminate up to 40% of transactional accounting work by 2020, allowing finance teams to spend much more time on strategic decision support, predictive analytics, and performance management.
How should finance leaders be preparing for these emerging talent needs? According to Rob Dicks, financial services industry leader for human capital at Deloitte, it’s about thinking through how to balance new and emerging skill sets with more traditional roles in finance. “It’s common for clients to look at the finance function and feel like they need more of everything – more analytics, more data scientists, more people who are thinking about how to programme the bots,” he says. “But they also recognise they still need to do statutory tax reporting, so balancing the need of all finance skills and expertise is important.”
When predicting future talent needs, Dicks says that finance leaders should assess at a sub-function level, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, tax and investor relations. “Many accounts payable functions include significant processing and repetitive tasks,” he says. “So that’s an area where RPA, cognitive and machine learning can come in. It won’t feel like you need more of everything when you start to get more specific about which area of finance you’re talking about.”
Change can be stressful for all teams and the potential impact of new technology is such that it is important that existing staff are kept in the loop about strategy on this front, how it might impact their roles, through regular, face to face dialogue.
“We need to be open about how technology changes impact the team,” says Robynne Sisco, Co-President and CFO at Workday. “Some finance professionals may be concerned automation will make them replaceable. CFOs should drive strategies that clearly communicate to team members that by automating administrative parts of their jobs, they will not eliminate their roles, but instead will be given new and more interesting work that will help them develop and stay challenged.”