Date posted: 23/07/2020 5 min read

Adapting your finance function for the digital age

Rather than fear the transition to automation, now is the time for finance leaders to step forward and upskill their teams.

In Brief

  • Business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools are driving an evolution of the finance workforce.
  • There’s a demand for skills such as defining information requirements, managing data governance and constructing self-service BI solutions.
  • Skills gaps can be overcome by training provided with the digital tools themselves.

Over the past decade, accounting and finance specialists have been hypothesising on the future of finance functions and how technology can improve productivity and increase agility. Such predictions are often followed by apprehension and fear about the automation of jobs and livelihoods, particularly in the accounting industry.

While technology is certainly affecting the finance and accounting workforce, what’s actually happening is more nuanced and optimistic.

Digital tools are driving change in the finance workforce

The rapid development of digital finance tools such as business intelligence (BI), data analytics, robotic process automation and virtual analyst technology, is driving the evolution of the finance workforce. The advances in these technologies is allowing CFOs to markedly improve the service levels and productivity of their teams.

The speed of this technological progression is impressive. In 2015, Microsoft’s entry into BI with Power BI disrupted the market, sent its competitors’ share prices crashing, and reset software pricing and licensing models. It also hastened the improvement and expansion of other BI players, such as Tableau and Qlik.

At the same time, other categories of digital finance players emerged, such as Hyper Anna and ThoughtSpot, in what has been labelled the augmented analytics market. Tools such as Alteryx, a self-service data analytics platform, are also proving to be widely applicable.

The potential for these digital tools to deliver service-level and productivity improvements, particularly when implemented together as part of a holistic finance operating model, should not be underestimated.

To deliver such benefits, these digital finance tools rely on an accurate, integrated and well-managed data layer, and an effectively designed solution. PwC has recently supported organisations in evolving their finance operating models by deploying large-scale digital solutions.

Evolving the finance and accounting workforce

There’s no question that the skills and capabilities required to succeed in the digital finance age are different from what was needed previously.

“The skills and capabilities required to succeed in the digital finance age are different from what was needed previously.”
Patrick Burke CA

There’s less demand for the know-how of manually collating, manipulating and consolidating data, or preparing manual management reports. But there is a greater call for skills in defining information requirements, designing data architecture, managing data governance and constructing self-service BI solutions and other tools at scale.

Encouragingly, overcoming the skills gap to succeed in digital finance function is not insurmountable. To a large degree, the necessary upskilling is assisted by the user-friendly back-end environments of the digital tools themselves, their training programs and growing online user community groups.

What’s not changing is the need for comprehensive business understanding. This involves being able to critically analyse an organisation’s performance and set an appropriate course of action, plus the interpersonal skills to navigate any impediments to realising the projected gain.

Finance leaders play an integral role in the effective adoption of these digital tools. The leaders’ primary aim is to help their team members through the transition to digital finance and its ways of working. Managing the new spectrum of roles – some freshly created, others changed – requires careful planning, patience and a supportive environment.

Increasingly, organisations are navigating this in a programmatic way, with the ‘employee-led transformation’ approach yielding great results for individuals and businesses. This is evidenced in the effort PwC has undertaken for the conversion of its own business and in the work it does with one of its clients, a large US retail bank.

It’s a truism that it’s not the strongest nor most intelligent who survive, but those who are the most adaptable to change. Fortunately for accounting and finance professionals, they’re well equipped to adapt and thrive in the digital finance age.

Resources:

PwC supports CFOs and their teams to realise the potential of digital finance, from strategy to execution. If you would like a copy of PwC’s latest thought leadership on evolving the finance function for the digital age, email patrick.burke@pwc.com

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