The finance workforce in a digital world

Preparing to modernise your finance workforce

Digital technologies can help your team operate better, faster, and at lower cost than you might have imagined. But it has to be the right team. 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 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.”

The CFO guide to the Finance Workforce in a Digital World

The finance workforce in a digital world

Present + future

As we enter the third decade of the century, CFOs know that technology is providing opportunities for Finance to change. 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.

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"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look in your own backyard. Consider collaborating with local universities to build programmes that yield candidates with both finance acumen and technical skills.

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 toward creating the finance organisation your business leaders really want.

Explore other "Crunch time" reports and case studies

Examine specific digital disruptors and their impacts in our Crunch time report series. Whatever your interest, one thing is clear: From cloud computing and robotics to analytics, cognitive technologies, and blockchain, a new class of digital disruptors is transforming how the work of finance gets done.

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