The future of the finance professional – are you ready?

At the Charity Accountants’ Conference 2022, Oliver Deacon – an executive coach for finance leaders and ex-Microsoft financial director – held an enlightening session that looked at the changing role of the finance professional.

With his experience of working at the second largest tech company in the world he shared some valuable insight on where he saw the charitable sector heading and what will become important for finance professionals/teams in the future and the skills they will need.

He began with a poll amongst the attendees which suggested that just over half are looking forward to the future of the finance industry, but a third were unsure. Some felt that they lacked skills readiness and that their careers will be impacted in the future. Finance professionals are right to have some concerns.

Oliver said in 10 years’ time 60 per cent of jobs in finance won’t exist, but only one in 10 finance professionals are currently aware.

Roles will evolve and the skills needed in the future will be very different from today. This isn’t unique to the charity sector. This is across all sectors and industries.

In charity finance less time will be spent on day to day finance activities and much more time spent on advanced strategic thinking, so fewer people will be needed in finance teams.

What’s behind this? Automation and the cloud will drive change over the next ten years. More finance jobs to be done using technology, which will leave finance professionals with more time to spend on transformation and strategic work.

Oliver highlighted that data and artificial intelligence (AI) have had a huge impact on all job roles over the past decade. This inevitably impacts finance jobs too. He said finance departments will start to have new function areas that focus entirely on data and AI. This will enable a shift from a backwards looking approach to a more forward looking strategic data led approach.

Different finance systems will be needed. One of the biggest changes finance professionals are starting to see is the move into the cloud.

Cost-effective accounting systems such as Xero – relatively unknown a few years back are now popular with many organisations. They have become cheaper and more accessible for all sizes of organisations, enabling them to do amazing things in terms of managing processes and bringing about huge cost savings.

Other key areas that will influence the finance function are data and analytics with 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) causing an explosion in data and how it’s collected. This will be used to drive decision making through machine learning. With the huge volumes of data available it is impossible for humans to analyse more than a few variables.

Computers on the other hand can process unlimited amounts of data and variables. Machine learning will support finance teams to make more accurate business and finance predictions for the future.

With all this in mind Oliver brought the session back to what this all means for a finance professional today and how they can prepare for the future from both an individual and finance leader perspective. He highlighted two key skills areas that people will need in 10 years’ time:

  • Technical skills – data science, Big Data programming languages, machine learning and AI, analytics and data presentation (Power BI) and robotic process automation (RPA)
  • Soft skills – presenting and influencing, communication and storytelling, networking and relationship building, leadership and management, personal effectiveness and productivity

Finance will ultimately play a bridging function across different groups in the organisation and will need to understand both the business and the technical aspect of the finance function.

He ended by answering the question many were probably thinking “as my role won’t be around in 10 years’ time, should I just quit?” His answer is a resounding NO! He suggests by considering the future now it’s about being thoughtful of what place a finance professional might take in the future and being aware of the changes that are happening.

Key to this is an understanding that technology needs to move to the forefront and that automation is going to be essential to the finance team’s future. Getting to grips with this now and starting to learn about the different technologies and how they can be used is vital.

One thing for sure is no organisation can opt out of a digital future but knowing what this might entail can really help people and organisations prepare and be future ready.