11 October 2022

Digital finance skills that employers need now

Two employees in suits looking at a laptop

In today’s uncertain economic environment, CFOs are being asked to provide real-time insight to enable efficient and agile decision making.

There is, therefore, a significant benefit to digitalising the finance function. To make this a success, it is not only important to have a clear vision and strategy, but also the key skills needed to implement it.

In this article, we explore some of the main skills needed in the finance team now, and as the future of finance reporting continues to evolve. We will also explore what finance leaders can do to build the key skills they need and close the digital capability gaps within their teams.

A changing landscape of Finance

According to Deloitte’s Crunch time 2025 predictions, the role of finance is rapidly changing. In an environment of big data and digital technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; businesses are demanding greater accuracy, efficiency and strategic insight than ever before. 

As with any technology upgrade, success is reliant on teams being able to use it effectively. In MHR’s latest research, The Evolution of the Finance Function, almost 60% of those surveyed revealed they are struggling to fill that skills gap.

As a result, many businesses are struggling to embrace and adapt to the pace of change. Without a core understanding of how to best utilise these disruptive technologies, finance teams cannot truly benefit from digitalisation.  

New skills for a new landscape of Finance

The success of the finance function depends on combining the right technology with the right talent. As more traditional roles are displaced for automated processes, organisations need to adopt technology and adapt their skill set to work alongside it. So, what exactly are these key skills that are needed now more than ever?

As expected, hard technical skills are needed to understand the technology. However, there is a focus on soft skills too, such as communication and presentation. With a greater focus on the analysis and interpretation of what the numbers and trends are showing, clear and non-jargonistic communication for the wider business is crucial – something robots cannot do!

What are some of the key skills needed?

  1. Commercial awareness - With technology handling more of the day-to-day processes, finance teams can be more proactive. There will be less time spent preparing data for analysis and more time interpreting results and asking, "What does this tell me about the business?" and "How can the business improve performance?". Employers want people who understand how the data can both support and influence the wider business strategy. 

  2. Technology acquisition - We know that spreadsheets will always serve some sort of purpose in day-to-day business. However, it is important for finance team members to understand how to exploit digital technology drive better outcomes for finance and the business. 

  3. Innovation and leadership - Good leadership is essential for any business navigating such transitions. Effective leaders will champion development, get people on board and engage teams to embrace change. This is driven intensely through strong communication and collaboration.

  4. Adaptability - In an ever-changing environment, both in technology and business demand; finance professionals must be able to demonstrate adaptability, ability to learn quickly and efficiently, and have a flexible approach to new scenarios. 

  5. Analytical thinking - With new technologies generating more data, analytical thinking is a crucial skill for understanding the information, interpreting it and deriving an intelligent and thoughtful response.

  6. Collaboration - Historically, the finance function has been somewhat isolated from other operational departments, resulting in a disconnect in decision-making. As automated technologies take over more transactional work, finance team members must shift from being 'number crunchers' to becoming strategic advisors and business partners to the rest of the business. 

  7. Communication - Being able to communicate properly is vital in the finance function. As the team collaborates with other departments and executives, they need to convey technical details to a non-technical audience frequently. Without strong communication skills, that all important skill of collaboration will become a challenge.

How can employers close the digital skills gap?

Identify your skills gaps

The first step to solving any problem is to have an awareness of the problem. Finance leaders should be aware of, and acknowledge, the skills gap needed for digitalisation and then define what that looks like. What digital skills are lacking? What skills are needed?

Awareness leads to action. Now is the time to get buy-in from senior leadership and identify barriers and challenges that your company is facing when it comes to optimising financial performance. This will then support in presenting a business case for change.

Champion internal mobility

In a highly competitive (and oftentimes expensive) market, employees should feel empowered to learn and develop within their roles to gain those additional skills. Leaders should foster a growth mindset within employees and actively encourage internal promotion.

This also means that finance leaders can invest resources in current employees they know and trust; avoiding the costs associated with hiring new talent.

Hiring new talent

With that being said, that isn’t to rule out recruitment as an option. Though selection of new talent needs to be considered and timely, it can be an effective way to mobilise change in a department prone to sticking to what they know.

For investors and competitors, this can also signal investment and commitment to digitalisation efforts.

What’s next?

None of us know for certain what the future will hold, but we all have a responsibility to be prepared. In finance, that means working now to get the right people and technology in place to stay ahead of inevitable change.

Check out our latest research report to discover how business experts are managing their digital transformation journey and championing innovation.

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