The finance function within Australian businesses is set to face the biggest era of transformation as technological advances, such as automation, digitisation and big data, inflict “significant impact” on the future of the industry.
Unsurprisingly, Australian CFOs remain concerned about how to fully leverage these new technologies in the years ahead.
According to research from specialist recruiter Robert Half, 36 per cent of Australian CFOs identify keeping pace with changing technology as the number one initiative, followed by meeting regulatory compliance mandates (25 per cent) and harnessing/managing Big Data (15 per cent).
At the same time, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of CFOs are concerned about their team’s ability to implement these initiatives.
“It’s only natural that Australian companies are racing to capitalise on the potential that new technologies bring,” Robert Half senior managing director of Asia Pacific, David Jones, said.
“The digital transformation of the finance function is only set to increase, as companies are already implementing and exploring automation to reduce or remove high margin processes, such as procurement and accounts payable.
“Moving forward, finance teams will increasingly be looking to invest in technological solutions that will streamline and optimise financial reporting, digitise their accounting processes and take advantage of big data.”
As a result, Jones said companies “need to act now” in order to keep up with this ever-evolving technology-driven world, and this includes change.
“In order to successfully adapt to finance of the future, the finance function needs to have an efficient finance model, technologies and not least, highly skilled people if they successfully want to leverage the potential of these emerging technologies,” he explained.
For Jones, the growing influence of disruptive technologies, such as process automation and corporate digitisation are placing “significant pressure” on finance professionals who need to update skill sets to adapt to this digital era.
While finance and accounting professionals with niche skills are in high demand - particularly those with expertise in financial software packages and analytical skills - almost nine out of ten (89 per cent) CFOs find it challenging to source the skilled finance professionals they need, citing a lack of technical niche experts as the primary reason.
“Due to the anticipated growth of automation, finance teams will no longer be responsible for tasks that were previously their mainstay,” Jones explained.
“Finance professionals will need to develop more technical-based skills in order to stay in-demand in a competitive future market.
“It is therefore no coincidence that companies are looking for financial employees with highly developed IT and analytical skills, as well as experienced interim managers with specific system implementation skills for business transformation projects.”
As finance professionals take centre-stage within the business, Jones believes they will not only be expected to master the necessary technical skills, but they will also be expected to demonstrate high levels of business acumen, leadership and communication skills.
“Looking toward and beyond 2020, finance professionals will need to continually develop their technical skills and knowledge base as the technological impact on the finance department continues to grow,” he said.
“In order to future-proof a business, CFOs need to identify the skills that will be needed in the future, know where the gaps are in their current team and develop a talent management plan to fill those gaps.”
Similarly, Jones said finance professionals need to make a commitment to develop their own technical abilities, citing data mining, extraction and faster interpretation of big data as “critical skills to hone”.
“Statistical modelling and data analysis, financial analysis and planning, budgeting, forecasting and operational analysis will be key areas of focus for the finance professional ambitious to offer real value to the organisation,” he added.