Today’s Must-Have Skills for Future Finance & Accounting Professionals

DAVID BRIGHTMAN | February 7, 2022 | 80 views

As the economy begins to bounce back following an arduous few years, individuals, businesses, and society as a whole are looking forward to refuelling business growth. While this restored optimism may be encouraging, many financial leaders are keeping a sharp eye on business resiliency and agility in the face of future disruption.

Within this context, finance and accounting (F&A) teams and finance leaders are playing an increasingly critical role—providing vital consultancy, analysis, planning, and due diligence to ensure sound decision-making. As a result, new skills to interpret data and model and forecast scenarios are now in high demand, moving recruitment and talent retention to the top of the priority list. Simultaneously, mundane, repetitive, transactional work is making organisations less desirable for top talent to remain at or join in. Amid fierce competition, business leaders quickly realise that building their future talent pipeline is as crucial as it is challenging.

A recent global survey commissioned by BlackLine reveals that a significant number of C-suite and finance executives plan to invest heavily in talent across the business over the next twelve months. However, only 14% of CFOs polled said they are confident in and thrive on the skills required in the finance function. Respondents expressed concerns about a lack of leadership skills, strategic thinking, and technology skills, with a significant number believing that the finance function is failing to keep up with other areas of the business when it comes to digital transformation.

Our survey also suggests that companies are currently facing a skills gap that could be harming efforts to implement digital change. While there is an appetite to automate more processes, a lack of experience with automation software and a lack of willingness to use automation software is holding some businesses back. For example, more than a third of survey respondents said they would like to automate the financial close (39%), financial planning and analysis (FP&A), and budgeting and forecasting (34%), while more than a quarter want to automate accounts receivable (30%) processes, but the same respondents said a lack of software experience or skills in their organization makes this difficult.

Against this backdrop, when it comes to acquiring new talent for the finance function today, technology skills and experience are now in high demand. Our research found that two in five (41% of respondents) believe their company needs people with knowledge of financial systems integration. Meanwhile, more than a third are looking for people with experience or knowledge of financial automation solutions (34%) or intelligent automation (34%).

The top five skills that CFOs agree are most important for future finance leaders, however, are the ability to understand and analyse financial data (34%); a strong understanding of financial best practices (27%); a strong understanding of risk management (25%); the ability to collaborate with colleagues from other functions (20%); and the ability to use new software or technology (19%).

This suggests that while there is an immediate need for technology experience today, the leaders of tomorrow may need a more nuanced set of skills. In particular, the ability to provide analysis, think strategically about risk and demonstrate ‘soft’ skills like collaboration or communication. 

In a competitive business environment, the ability to attract and retain top performers with these skills will be integral to success. To do this, organisations must eliminate the transactional and mundane work often associated with the finance function. Over a quarter (27%) of respondents agreed that this kind of repetitive work leaves employees bored, with limited opportunities to learn new skills or focus on career development. A lack of development opportunities may encourage new and old talent to look elsewhere, while time-intensive manual processes will cause businesses to miss opportunities to nurture talent from within. Existing, legacy technology is also creating challenges for recruitment, with over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed agreeing that this makes it difficult to compete with more technologically advanced businesses for the best candidates.

Technology is changing the landscape of what finance and accounting traditionally used to be and what it’s going to be in the future.

Investments in technology and automation in finance and accounting will not only lower the cost of doing business but also make companies more attractive to candidates who will spend less time on rote and repetitive work. Bringing in the digital aspect is what will really create value.

But it’s clear that business leaders are still grappling with the challenge of implementing digital transformation plans. For the finance function, the current skills gap is clearly exacerbating the problem. But with the pandemic fuelling the so-called ‘Great Resignation,’ companies must act quickly to make sure they are attractive to the right applicants – the future generation of finance.

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