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The Need for Digital Skills in the Finance sector

Technology is changing how we do our work. That’s true in almost every sector, but none more so than Finance.

The pace of change seems to be accelerating, so it’s increasingly important that those working in Finance are not only up-to-speed with the latest developments, but also prepared – as far as possible – for what comes next.

There’s a need for agility and flexibility like never before. Anybody who suggests, “We’ve always done it this way” has failed to understand what’s going on.

A contributed Deloitte article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the potential for a “digital talent crunch” in Finance departments, as technology offers new opportunities, but also new challenges.

It breaks down the technologies into two categories: “‘core modernization’ technologies such as cloud computing, robotic process automation and data visualization; and ‘exponentials,’ which offer substantially new and different capabilities to the Finance function. These include advanced analytics and cognitive computing, in-memory computing and block chain”.

Finance departments often find themselves at the forefront of tech innovations – either piloting for their own use, or working with other parts of the organisation to assess their value.

Either way, Finance teams need to be on top of this technology, and that means having skills and attitudes so they can quickly understand, evaluate, and adopt these new approaches.

So, it’s a case of recruiting people with these attributes or developing existing members of the team – not just in technical skills, but engaging them in a culture which is enthusiastic about exploring the potential of the new.

And there are good reasons for enthusiasm, because technology is giving Finance departments an increasingly important role in their organisations. Nick Castellina of Aberdeen Group points out that Finance is no longer “solely viewed as an operational function that serves the specific purpose of managing transactions, finance reporting, and compliance”. Now it has become “a valued partner in strategic decisions as well as a potential source of efficiency, cost savings, and profitable growth”.

Castellina champions the idea of ‘high performing’ Finance departments, which embrace technology to enable practices such as real-time updates to financial metrics, a centralised repository of all financial information, and enabling users to create, access and share their own reports and charts.

It’s clear that Finance departments are facing a tech-driven revolution; it’s an exciting time with huge potential for their organisations.

A 2016 report on Raconteur highlighted six key areas where technology can provide solutions for Chief Financial Officers:

  • Getting valuable business intelligence
  • Balancing financial and risk management
  • Understanding organisational complexity
  • Cyber risk
  • Cross-border growth and compliance
  • Performance management

Essentially, technology can give CFOs the solutions, but the best tech in the world is useless without people who are able to understand, use and exploit it to deliver what the company needs.

As the Deloitte/WSJ article points out: “While the rapid growth of digital technologies creates new opportunities for Finance, it also creates the potential for a digital divide: If members of the Finance team lack the necessary skillsets and business acumen, they may not be able to make the most of these new digital capabilities”.

In fact, the situation is potentially more serious than that; without the necessary skillsets and business acumen in the Finance team, the department could fail to deliver and the whole organisation could fall behind its competitors.

Finance departments don’t have a choice about whether to embrace the digital world. Which means they now need people with digital skills as much as they need people with traditional Finance capabilities.

The sector itself is evolving at an unprecedented rate as digital transformation gathers pace. Keeping up with this pace of change is a major challenge for Employers, but it is not an insurmountable one. Yes, there is evidently a shortage of suitably skilled talent available, but it does exist albeit not necessarily in the desired volume that is needed. The key is knowing where that talent is and finding ways to tap into it, regardless of whether they are in or on the market.

Allen Associates’ specialist Finance Division has been helping Employers in Oxfordshire to find and attract the Finance Professionals they need the most. If you are looking to add to your team, speak to us.