The Must-Have Finance Skills of the Future

The financial professional of the future must utilize strategic and critical thinking skills to solve complex problems, leverage new technologies, and manage ever-changing risks.

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Rapid rates of transformation require finance professionals to innovate. What important skills are a must-have to succeed within the finance function? FEI Daily spoke with Corporate Financial Reporting Insights Conference (CFRI) speaker and Vice Chair of Chief Products and Technology Officer at PwC about the skills he predicts will be most in-demand.

FEI Daily: Why are upskilling/training events for senior-level financial executives important, especially this year?

Joe Atkinson: The pace isn’t slowing down for any of us, and that includes those of us who are more tenured in our careers. The reality is that technology and the impact it will have on our jobs is going to continue to change - the critical skill we all need to be developing is how to continually learn and upskill ourselves. Senior-level finance executives do not have to be deep experts on the tech - but the approach and mindset has to bring out the best from the technology experts around them. 

I’d also encourage executives not to underestimate your organization - and your team’s - capacity to grow. At PwC, a huge contributor to our success has been what we call “citizen led” innovation. Quite simply, we put the right tools in the hands of our people and we equipped them with the knowledge and the empowerment to put them to work. We learned quickly that they have the best view of what’s possible - they brought the knowledge of their work to the task of changing their work. Not only did they benefit from a new sense of purpose and a drive to innovate, but we also benefited from their ability to apply new technologies and new skills to make the work more efficient and more effective. They became the drivers of our transformation, instead of the recipients, and they knew - as we did - that they would be better positioned for future career growth as a result.  

FEI Daily: What skills do you predict will be most in-demand over the next several years (finance and otherwise)?

Atkinson: We used to talk about jobs as “tech” jobs and “non-tech” jobs, but now there are just jobs. We all have to embrace the tech. Careers today and the careers of tomorrow will require getting comfortable being uncomfortable - a mindset that allows people to explore tech, to ask the “stupid” questions and explore in a collaborative way with their coworkers what the tech means to the way they do their job.

We know we need smart, diligent accountants and financial executives who demonstrate the integrity that’s at the heart of financial reporting.  Data skills, analytics, data visualization - all are critical skills to the finance function of the future. But so is agility, a “product mindset,” and an understanding of the concepts behind human centered design. These aren’t the skills we often associate with our finance functions, but if we’re going to drive true and lasting transformation, these are the additional skills we need.

FEI Daily: What skills are finance teams looking for as they face COVID-related challenges?

Atkinson: Many observers are saying that the pandemic has significantly accelerated digital transformation - and in many ways it absolutely has. But in the last few months, what we’ve really seen is great strides in how we all work and communicate remotely. We still have a great deal to do to change the way work gets done, and to create sustainable patterns of work in a post-COVID world. Many people report they’re working longer hours than ever before, and as leaders, we need to listen to that reality and do all we can to create a better experience for the talented professionals we rely on every day. 

This has been a terrible and challenging time for many people. But - in the category of small silver linings - what the pandemic has demonstrated is that people have more agility and willingness to change than we as leaders typically give them credit for. None of us may be able to reliably work the mute/unmute buttons, but we are all more comfortable connecting, sharing content remotely, and driving outcomes even as we work far apart from each other. We have an opportunity to tap into that agility and empower our people to bring the next set of innovations to how we work.

FEI Daily: What do you hope attendees will take away from your session at CFRI?

Atkinson: Experience matters - organizations need steady leadership in uncertain times and the confidence that deep knowledge of our financial functions and processes brings comfort to our teams. But our teams also see the pace of change - they know the world is changing around them - and the additional burden of leadership today is to help them navigate that, even when we ourselves may also be uncomfortable with that pace of change. I hope today that participants will realize that the key takeaway is not to defer your learning. The learning curves may seem imposing, but the reality is they’re not that steep, they’re just continuous. The sooner you lean in and create the culture of learning, and empower your people to innovate with the right tools and skills, the faster you’ll unlock the ability of your teams to deliver the transformation you seek.