Fostering the future: develop creative and digitally savvy accountants for a new finance function

Dec 16, 2020

by Helena Clennell Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7903 818545

by Gavin Hildreth Finance Benchmarking Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7595 609676

In a recent blog, ‘The finance workforce is transforming. Here is where to focus to keep pace.’, we explored how finance functions need to develop a workforce strategy to address a change in finance transformation. Through this blog we touched on the four lenses to focus on to keep on track; workforce planning and talent, organisation and role design, workforce performance and experience, and workplace experience.

Our report ‘Finance Insights – Reimagined’, conducted with the ACCA, homes in on the planning and talent aspect. It showcases how the finance workforce of the future will need to embrace its creative side, using technology to play with data in new ways and help uncover novel solutions and opportunities for the business.

The changing role of finance 

Historically, the finance function has had a strong hierarchical structure with a heavy focus on transactional efficiency and compliance and control. Decision-making within the organisation could be slow as a result, with finance’s role often reactive and limited to reporting historical outcomes rather than looking forward. Naturally, individuals with the skillset well suited to these traditional roles are often meticulous, careful and risk averse.

However, the challenges of a changing business environment, the demands of new technology and social and environmental concerns mean that the financial workforce must evolve and adapt. Traditional skills are no longer enough. Organisations, customers and investors are looking beyond financials at a broader ‘purpose’ to measure value and performance. The finance function and its people must now be able to provide financial and non-financial insight and recommendations across the six capitals of integrated reporting (financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and natural) to inform and drive better decision-making.

Workforce of the future

Increased automation and process efficiency will reduce the time needed for transactional and compliance and control activities. This should give finance more opportunity to focus on delivering data-driven insights and expanding its remit as a strategic business partner. 

In our report, nearly 60% of respondents said that failure to evolve appropriate skills within the next 5 years risks rendering the finance business partner role obsolete. Only 35% are either already addressing or have short term plans to do so. CFOs must create new roles and career paths in finance, as well as upskilling the existing workforce

The finance workforce of the future will need to be comfortable in a fast-moving, digitally savvy environment. There will also be a greater emphasis on non-traditional softer skills for finance, such as critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, emotional intelligence and an ability to network and collaborate effectively across the organisation.

This isn't just about rolling out an e-learn. COVID-19 has shown just how prone we all are to disruption, and how quickly skills can become outdated. Organisations need to keep up — and that's hard. They need to continually invest in upskilling their workforce so they can keep pace with the changing work environment.

Change in mindset

The transformation to finance business partner, however, isn’t just about a specific job spec or list of skills. It’s also a change in mindset and culture. 

Finance partners must be open-minded and ready to explore new tech-led opportunities. In this new world of reporting, with data and KPIs readily available, understanding and interpreting the wealth of data available will be paramount. Fast, agile decision-making will be essential.

As Claus Thorne Madsen (PwC Partner, Copenhagen) notes in the report, “A lot of people discuss whether finance business partnering is a role or mindset. I’m personally a strong believer that it is a role with a specific mindset. I’ve also come across CFOs who firmly believe that it’s a mindset, and that everyone in finance should have that mindset.” 

It’s also about delivering actionable recommendations to the business, based on the data and insight. For example, in our report, one CFO of a bank said a finance business partner had highlighted how managing the range of credit types that were awarded to customers could give those customers more benefits, but also provide more revenue to the bank.

A recognition and understanding of the value of non-financial areas of the business will mean finance partners can play a greater role and have more fun, providing strategic forward-looking advice based on a broad range of data sources.

Download ‘Finance Insights – Reimagined’ for more in-depth analysis on the future of the finance function and the skills that will be needed. 

For more information about how we’re helping our people, our clients and society to upskill, visit our New world. New skills. digital hub.

by Helena Clennell Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7903 818545

by Gavin Hildreth Finance Benchmarking Lead, PwC United Kingdom

Email +44 (0)7595 609676