Careers in finance are becoming "less linear" as traditional career paths are spanning today beyond the finance function
It will be critical for finance professionals to demonstrate the right behavior such as having an ethical approach, a desire to support innovation and objectivity
With increasing changes in technology and regulatory environment, the HR needs to play a critical role and partner with the finance team to design and define the structure and talent strategy for the finance function separately. In order to accomplish this successfully, both the HR and finance leaders will need to be cognizant of hiring trends, functional competencies and the impact that technology transformation is engendering.
The ACCA and People Matters roundtable conference on ‘Co-creating the NextGen finance function’ centered on discussions related to identifying and encouraging future talent, hiring trends, the competencies required for finance professionals, and the potential impact that technology can have on the finance function.
India has a massive potential to become one of the world’s biggest economies. Finance professionals are going to be key in driving sustainable economic growth in India. Companies therefore need to ensure that they are making the right decisions and hiring the right type of finance professionals. Here, the important question to be considered is related to what companies look for in finance professionals. It is to be noted that recruitment of finance professionals has undergone a drastic change in the last few years. It has become more scalable, uses smarter targeting and involves end-to-end tracking. This is also supported by the fact that today, the reach for recruitment is larger as companies have now evolved and are using technology and social media, which are driving significant changes in the way jobs are advertised, and also in identifying candidates. The emphasis on personal networks is still as relevant as it was earlier. Today, the recruitment process is managed more like the finance process – an end-to-end process that uses digital information to target the right individuals with the right qualities, and eventually bring them into the organizational fold.
However, the insidious problem of retaining the right talent also affects organizations. Increasingly, companies are focusing on the cultural aspect of their organizations for employees to have an emotional attachment to the organizations. Another major area that organizations are focusing on is developing individual career paths. Employees today are more inclined towards exploring the areas where opportunities will come from and what support they will receive in their career paths. Today, the career path in finance has taken a different face as the traditional role of the function has evolved. Increasingly, service centers are combining outsourcing of entire functions, which creates an opportunity for finance professionals to explore alternative careers. Additionally, with several businesses being sliced, it creates new business opportunities for people.
Skills in-demand for finance professionals
Right behavior: Professions are not just about skills and capabilities anymore. What matters today is character and ethics — reliable and trustworthy. Finding individuals with clear ethical principles is clearly a goal for recruiters these days.It will also be critical for finance professionals to demonstrate the right behaviours, such as having an ethical approach, a desire to support innovation and objectivity. The advent of cross functional shared services or global business services are likely to change the career trajectory even further in shared services/new “process” based roles, which extend beyond finance.Careers are becoming less “linear” as traditional career paths in finance are spanning beyond the finance function.
Broader business skills: While a technical understanding of the core finance remains essential, the “enabling” broader business skills are to receive more attention. The need and ability of finance professionals to demonstrate the big picture to the top management through numbers and illustrate the implications of such numbers has become much more crucial than ever. Thus, while technical skills are important, companies now need to look for professionals with broader business experience and skills. The top priorities for finance professionals will be for them to have a good understanding of strategy, and have skills in communication, leadership, project management and change management. The ability to lead teams has today become crucial as companies need professionals who can motivate and lead people the right way.
Technology: Technology will have a crucial effect on people’s roles. One would imagine that with technology it would be easy for finance professionals to get their arms around the business, but that is not true. Today, there is a proliferation of technologies used in the finance function from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) through to Business Analytics and Reporting Tools. The challenge of a complicated and fragmented technology landscape in finance is that there is no single data truth. While much of the data has been digitized and has been made easily accessible, it has generated enormous repositories of unstructured data. This huge amount of data has made it difficult for finance teams to source the real information that is required. The biggest challenge for the finance team would be to tap into the Big Data to make sense and recognize patterns to be able to add economic value to the business. However, finance teams are spending a lot of time working out the numbers rather than understanding the implications of such numbers on business. Though the level of automation in financial activities is increasing, it is still in a nascent stage. While there is growing interest in the SMAC (Social, Mobile, Automation and Cloud) pack, there are still some reservations about putting financial data on the Cloud.
Drivers of change
In order to ensure that the finance team remains not only at the forefront of business strategy, but also in the driving seat, the finance teams needs to make the following drivers of change happen:
Embrace an enlarged strategic and commercial role: Opportunities are emerging for accountants to assume a far greater organizational remit. The potential exists to leverage the capabilities of the accountants across all aspects of corporate decision making from strategy formulation through to defining new business models.
Establish trust and ethical leadership: The profession needs to be seen to be addressing clear public concerns. There is a perception that it could do more to highlight and prevent everything from small-scale financial irregularities through to the major systemic failures that helped cause the global financial crisis and ensuing economic uncertainty.
Focus on a holistic view of complexity, risk and performance: There is a growing consensus on the need for reporting to provide a holistic perspective of a business and that this perspective must acknowledge the complexity of modern business and encompass financial and non-financial indicators of a firm’s financial status and potential.
Develop a global orientation: The pace of global expansion for firms from developed and developing markets alike is emphasizing the need for accounting and finance professionals to master the technical, language and cultural challenges of cross-border operations.
Reinvent the talent pool: The diverse range of demands and impacts on the profession is forcing a rethink of everything from training and development through to the type of people being recruited.
Imperatives for the finance profession
The finance team can have a very strategic role in driving the business forward. Today, the biggest opportunity for finance professionals is managing and analyzingBig Data. With the amount of information available, it would be the finance team’s job to extract quality information that would add value to the buisness. Research has shown that companies that adopt ‘data-driven’ decision-making methods can outperform their less enterprising peers; there are many easily accessed opportunities waiting for companies that use Big Data to their advantage, and accountants could be the ones to identify this.
There will be challenges, such as the need for high-quality data, security, privacy, and legal issues, but Big Data can become a very big opportunity for many accountants if they are able to:
• Ensure that the data is protected, in tune with the laws of the region and used ethically
• Data is used in a more strategic way in order to know customers better, retain key customers and respond to customer needs more effectively
• Use the broader business perspective to inform and identify the questions Big Data can answer
• Monitor the specialist software and systems that are emerging and learn how to exploit them.
However, the most important thing that finance professionals need to do is attract new talent into the profession and ensure that they are equipped to deal with the demands of today’s business environment.