The new entry role reality for finance professionals by Joe Wheatley

It’s beyond debate that automation is an opportunity for every department in a company from job posting in HR, to claims processing and account transfers, and more transactional tasks are moving over to the robots, leaving people to fulfil more analytical and strategic roles. This article considers the finance department, in particular, the automation trends at work there and what it means for people looking to enter those teams.

In my day job, I’m fortunate to regularly speak to senior finance leaders, both as clients and as part of the research we are doing into the changing role of the future CFO. These conversations often centre around finance transformation and the increasing involvement of senior finance leaders in the strategic direction of the business. As a part of these discussions, we also talk about the use of automation, its benefits, challenges and the impact on job roles. 

Within finance, transformation priorities largely focus on the automation of back-office, reducing employee’s manual workload to free-up time to focus on analysis and projection, as well as becoming a stronger partner to the business in a broader sense. This reflects a common desire to move finance away from being a backward-looking department to become a more strategic partner. 

As a result, the leaders I am speaking to anticipate that a large proportion of back-office, routine work will be automated in the coming years, if it has not already. Functions like accounts payable (and many others) will, therefore, take up less resource, creating time to invest in the priority areas. For finance that now means an increased focus on business partnering and investing in analytical capability, these being the areas where it can add the most value to the business. 

To illustrate this point, one finance director described their role as less of a ‘finance leader’ and more of a ‘business leader who happens to be in the finance department’. And that sentiment was widely shared; the CFO of a UK-based marketing company described their ambition to standardise and automate all of the transactional work and convert their team members into business partners that could help and advise their colleagues in other areas. 

This is reflective of how we anticipate automation changing the skills profiles of finance professionals; forward-thinking finance leaders now value communication and influencing skills more highly than they have historically. 

In addition, a wider awareness of the business as a whole is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite for mid-senior roles, with one head of finance indicating that, for many roles, she would prefer candidates with MBAs to those qualified through ACCA. Communication, influence and business know-how aren’t key skills for many traditional finance roles, but without interpersonal skills and a broader context, business partners can’t be effective. 

There is still unanimous agreement that financial literacy is important, as would be expected, but the importance placed on technical literacy continues to grow. Having a combination of technical and financial acumen which lets you understand not only if the answers that are being produced look and feel ‘right’, but also how they are being produced will be valued. By this, I mean that for even relatively junior roles, the ability to adapt to and use systems and applications beyond Excel, for example, to build dashboards and visualise data, is a differentiating factor. 

As this trend progresses, many expect to see less ‘junior’ roles opening up in traditional functions, such as invoice processing, as these roles will be automated. Instead, new recruits will likely work in analytical functions working with data to provide business insight and guidance, and far less with transactional tasks. 

 

Taking the above into account, these changes tie into the more strategic role that many finance leaders want to play in their organisation. Enabled by the key factors mentioned in this article, the future of finance and where it sits strategically could be fundamentally different in the not too distant future. Considering the finance professionals looking to advance, or graduates looking to move into finance as a career should bear this changing skills set in mind.

 

This article is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network.

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Joe is a results-focused leader in the consulting space around automation and AI, with a range of project and programme delivery management experience across the banking, insurance, infrastructure, technology, outsourcing, recruitment and FMCG sectors in the UK, EU and USA.

Now leading Triad’s automation and AI practice, Joe takes a holistic view on the transformation of operations leveraging emerging technologies; incorporating process excellence, automation, narrow elements of AI and traditional outsourcing to reduce the cost of operations for clients.