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Talent shortages hold back finance teams' ambitions

30th Jan 2019
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Finance team

A new AICPA report, Agile Finance Unleashed, finds 90% of finance teams do not think they have the skills they need to support their organisation’s digital ambitions.

‘Digital ambitions’ is such an amorphous term that it’s easy to simply shrug. But it’s really about best practice and what the market demands, said Peter Simons, the AICPA’s associate director of finance transformation.

“Digital businesses want to go further. It’s not just about efficiency. Not just removing costs, it’s about operational excellence. There’s an awful lot of focus on customer experience, but you can’t deliver that if the processes beneath it aren’t working.

“The ones that are working aren’t just seeking efficiency. They’re using advanced analytics, what’s called pre-financial information. They’re not just helping the business with finance processes. It’s a strategic overview and constantly allocating its resources.”

The allocation of resources, in particular, is a critical point. In a recent conversation with AccountingWEB, Workday’s Frederic Portal observed that the relationship between CIO and CFO is getting tighter and tighter, if not outright merging.

This is reflected in Workday’s own research: three-quarters of UK CFOs surveyed said they needed to work more closely with their IT teams.

Talent shortage

Then there’s the talent issue. “The teams are shrinking, they’re smaller, they need more flexible people,” said Portal. Although it’s getting better as the workforce adapts, Portal said, there’s still a substantial shortage.

The CFOs in the Workday survey cited “a lack of skills” as their greatest challenge, and nearly three-quarters of financial leaders feel their finance teams are being held back by a lack of digital talent.

And, in effect, the people leading these teams must adapt too, he said. For Portal, it’s a question of what sort of finance leader will attract data analysts or systems specialists. “These people are look for the vision, where the CFO wants to drive their finance department.

“The CFO should position their finance office as a key stakeholder in the business. You are going to have more of a chance to bring these people in. Do I want to work on a finance department if my interest isn’t accounting?”

The omnivorous CFO

The new finance leader, in Portal’s estimation, is omnivorous. Perfectly at home discussing computer systems and data and, of course, the more traditional remit of accounting.

Although the CFO’s portfolio has broadened, traditional skills are not less important. “There’s a gap between analytics insight and commercial insight,” said the AICPA’s Simons. “That’s why you still need the finance people there.”

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