Future-Proofing Finance: Top Three Priorities to Build the Finance Team of the Future

by Philippa Lawrence

Learn the ways finance leaders can future-proof their finance team for continued success.

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Today’s finance leaders are facing various challenges as they work to keep pace with continuous innovation while managing the ever-expanding remit of finance. As leaders look to build finance teams of the future, they’re also facing challenges brought on by the Great Resignation, increased complexity within the regulatory landscape, and what feels like an insatiable demand for data from the business.

In 2022, best-in-class-technology will play a key role in not only hiring, but also retaining the next generation of finance professionals, enabling them to meet the evolving remit of finance. As we think about the next decade, here are three ways finance leaders can future-proof their finance team for continued success:

1. Prioritizing technology to attract top talent. The Great Resignation is giving finance leaders the opportunity to re-imagine team roles and up-level skills requirements to create the best team structure possible. Finance teams are hungry to upskill – now it’s up to finance leaders to deliver the technology to enable it. As part of that, finance leaders need to be prioritizing technology that automates accounting, reporting, and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) processes; streamlines workflow; and gives employees the ability to focus on strategic tasks and helps boost productivity. Technology matters to finance professionals and it could be the difference in attracting top candidates – and in today’s competitive hiring market, this is key.

According to a recent CFO survey, nearly half (48%) of CFOs plan to invest in consumer-like interfaces for finance tasks to attract future finance talent within the next five years. We’ve seen enterprise software evolve and while finance has been slower to embrace cloud technology, the time is now to bring in new cloud-based enterprise technologies that enable teams to move away from transactional work and focus on delivering deeper analysis and insights to the business. ML and AI technology are automating transactional processes and helping teams shift from days to minutes to find anomalies.

For example, many teams today dread quarter close because for many it is still a manual, tedious process. Finance professionals don’t want to spend their time reconciling numbers at close – the fun work is analyzing data and then providing valuable insights to drive the business forward. That’s where technology can make a big difference in attracting talent because it offers employees the chance to focus on strategy and analysis. 

2. Ushering in an expanded set of data skills. Alongside technology transformation, finance leaders are embracing a new set of skills as they look to build the finance team of the future. From data storytelling to analytics to leveraging new ML/AI technologies, finance professionals are adding skills that enable them to better partner with the business and quickly turn data into insights. The automation of transactional tasks is allowing leaders to uplevel and add skills to their teams, spending more time on the analysis of broader data sets to drive faster decision making and agility.

 The pandemic has proven that real-time data is the key and finance will need to unlock that with these in-demand skills, all supported by technology that streamlines and automates processes.   Managing planning in spreadsheets or having access to transactions only once a financial statement is prepared just doesn’t work anymore. Providing insight into spend and ROI to guide investment decisions is critical. But this often requires a combination of data from various, disparate sources and then drilling down to understand the data at a granular level. For example, finance might need to understand 4-door truck sales at the state, regional, or even individual store levels by day and month to help guide decisions on inventory spend, accessories sourcing, or staffing per site. This requires not only a deep understanding of the data but also the ability to present the analysis and recommendations in a way that business partners can understand and then act on. 

3. Harnessing data to advance environment, social and governmental (ESG) goals: Emerging reporting and compliance demands are requiring skills and expertise outside of the traditional finance role, from diversity and inclusion (D&I) to greenhouse gases to carbon emissions. For the first time, factors outside of finance (i.e. Sarbanes-Oxley or RevRec/Lease Accounting standards) are driving what could be one of the biggest shifts for finance teams in decades as they look to support corporate sustainability goals.

As the SEC readies rules for ESG reporting, for example, finance leaders are preparing to support these new requirements -- and data is a big part of that. As we think about the expanded skillsets of the finance function, a keen eye on sophisticated analytics that help leaders decipher the impact of environmental and social forces on future business plans will be key in helping companies to meet and exceed their ESG goals. In the same survey referenced above, 55% of CFOs noted that their finance team is adding ESG functions to their team over the next five years, and 54% are planning to add diversity and inclusion functions. Finance teams of the future will expand their understanding of D&I and ESG, as well as how to leverage new reporting and analytics technologies that bring this seemingly disparate data together into standardized and compliant reporting.

Finance leaders are working in a time of unparalleled business transformation. Today’s leaders will need to remain hyper-focused on implementing strategies that promote agility, innovation, and smarter decision making. As we look ahead to next-generation teams, we’ll see an increased focus on real-time data and analysis and the ability to leverage new technologies to deliver faster, better insights to the business. One thing is certain: 2022 is already gearing up to be the year that finance leaders prioritize technology as a key component of their people strategy.

Philippa Lawrence is the Chief Accounting Officer at Workday.