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Strategy

Finance’s Greatest Test: A Q&A With EY’s Myles Corson


EY’s Myles Corson says one of the best ways financial executives can navigate disruptive periods is by having clarity, purpose, and a vision for the organization.

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From blockchain to intelligent automation, there is no shortage of disruptive technology aiding but also challenging finance teams today. According to Myles Corson, Americas Markets Leader, Financial Accounting Advisory Services at EY, having a clear strategy and purpose when it comes to disruptive technology, while maintaining a sharp focus on talent is the key to surviving in an rapidly changing business world.

FEI Daily spoke with Corson ahead of this year’s Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference about the impact of emerging technology on the talent pool, the roles of the future, and how financial executives can navigate disruptive periods.

FEI Daily: In one “The Better Finance” episode you spoke with Tony Klimas about the impact of digital disruption on the talent pool. Do you find that finance teams have the staff in place today to engage with and manage new technologies?

Myles-Corson.jpgMyles Corson: I think often financial executives lean too heavily on technology and don't think about the talent agenda enough and around the change management that goes with the adoption of new technologies, and the new competencies and skills that they either need to be building in their existing workforce or they need be recruiting and supplementing with. 

If you look at some of the research we did, CFOs consistently say that that is one of the biggest concerns they have, particularly in areas like analytics. So I think it's one of the big challenges right now, how you develop the right skills, or supplement your existing workforce.

FEI Daily: What are some of the roles and titles finance teams will be hiring for in the future?

Corson: As you talk about the impact of automation, I think one of the questions that comes up is: Is this going to replace existing job titles? And I'm a firm optimist that it's going to create new job titles. And I always use the example that if you look back a few years, no one would have known what a social media marketing manager would have been. The volumes of data that are being generated now will create new job titles. I personally haven't seen, necessarily, titles changing in finance yet, but I'm sure that will happen. 

What I do think is interesting is as technology gets much more usable and as we move increasingly to platforms that don't require deep coding skills, because the visual interface has become much more powerful, I don't think you're necessarily going to see is the need for lots of deep data science and computer science skill sets. Because I think the technology is becoming much more usable, and what's really important is the understanding of the finance domain, and the accounting background, and the business acumen to really understand business and strategic issues and help solve them with that finance lens enabled by technology.

FEI Daily: Tony also spoke about how CFOs are tasked with not only understanding the new technologies themselves, but also justifying the investment. How important is collaboration between the CFO and IT when it comes to prioritizing tech spend?
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Corson: I think increasingly in this transformative age, and with all the disruption that's going on, the ability to be very connected across functions in solving business issues becomes increasingly important. 

What's interesting to me is, coming back to this idea about the way technology is changing, the speed technology is able to be adopted, and also to be sunset because new editions come up very quickly. You've got a generation of Millennials and now increasingly Gen Z in the workforce that are digital natives and have access to things that they want to use and play with because they expect to be able to do that, it's just the way that they work. If you think about the increase in processing power, in memory, the cost of technology is also decreasing, very rapidly. So where, a few years ago, you have very IT-led implementations, they are now a lot more solutions and applications that individual functions can use to solve immediate issues, without necessarily needing to go to IT. That's a risk and an opportunity.

The danger is you have lots of people going off and creating cottage industries, but at the same time it's an opportunity to be innovating and moving much faster. It's a big opportunity and it's also I think an interesting one, as IT has to define what it's role is particularly around that sort of infrastructure that enables functions to continue to innovate and move at pace. 

FEI Daily: So, in your opinion, IT and finance are moving more towards each other?

Corson: Absolutely, and I think the interesting common ground is clearly data. And there's discussion around the significance of data and where responsibility for data sits within the organization. 

I think finance is a really important stakeholder in that discussion because, ultimately, what you're using that data to do is to report externally your progress against strategic objectives. Finance has a very important role in defining what the data is to the level of detail and granularity that's required around that data. 

And think about the impact of a much broader set of metrics, particularly around long term value, which the investment community is increasingly focused on. You read about BlackRock, with Larry Fink’s letter and others, really challenging organizations to report out against a much broader set of metrics, about the impact they have longer term, the impact on communities, diversity, all those things because they see a correlation between organizations that think about the broader context and long term out-performance of the market.

FEI Daily: And what are some of those metrics?

Corson: Diversity is an obvious one. I think organizations not only set goals, but report out with progress against diversity deliver long term performance. I think there's clearly recognition that a lot of the investor focus is onpension funds and people need to be looking at a twenty to thirty year fund horizon, as well as a quarterly and year end cycle. Any metrics that line up with that longer term view, I think are interesting.

FEI Daily: What specific technologies are you seeing having the biggest impact for finance teams?

Corson: Right now you’ll see finance organizations focusing on the impact of intelligent automation because when you start to add a machine learning layer to automation it becomes very interesting. Blockchain is increasingly coming into focus and is much more of a revolution. 

I think finance executives feel like there is just so much new technology coming out, how do you decide where to make those investments? It goes back to the point you raised from Tony: where can you achieve the greatest return on investment? But for me, one of the biggest challenges facing finance executives is, having clarity, a purpose and a vision for what your finance organization is going to be. And where you can create the most value for your organization, because that's what helps to navigate through these disruptive periods. 

The one thing that is constant is change. Finance executives that can create principles that help to guide their organization and make effective decisions on the fly without being tied to a specific destination, because I think we all know that those destinations move as we go forward, will have success. It can be around creating culture, creating behaviors within an organization that will allow you to adapt, and then figuring out in a much more accelerated way which technologies fit, in a much more real-time basis. 

Corson will be a presenter at FEI's Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference on November 13. His session is called "When Great Technology Meets Great Finance Professionals."