Strategy & Operations » Upskilling the finance function is vital for company-wide growth

Upskilling the finance function is vital for company-wide growth

With finance professionals now expected to act as strategic advisors, addressing the existing digital skills gap is key to making this a reality

Given the economic upheaval of recent years, together with a torrent of changes brought about by rapidly evolving technology, future proofing is even more vital. For the finance function, this requires an evolution from the traditional finance remit to include business strategy and execution.

Despite the need for finance professionals to develop in this manner, recent research from HR, payroll and finance software and services company MHR shows that many are lagging in their digital journeys.

According to the report, at 58.1%, most finance functions are struggling to address their digital skills gap. Meanwhile, 51.5% of respondents said they are not where they expected to be in terms of their digital transformation, with a surprising 24.8% yet to even start.

Playing catch-up

While finance teams possess numerous skills, from commercial awareness (at 62.3%) to analytics and modelling (at 60.1%), there are significant gaps in their knowledge.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that finance professionals are not an immediate ‘plug and play’ resource for digitisation, but they are ideally placed to be at the heart of it” says Philip Edwards, finance director at MHR.

For example, in terms of automation, programming and technology acquisition, only 30.4%, 20.3% and 26.1% of respective respondents were in possession of these skills. Such expertise, however, is essential for driving innovation within the finance function.

According to the data compiled, 58.2% said that legacy systems and solutions are to blame, with 44.8% citing a lack of or deficiency in critical skills to be the biggest barrier to their digital objectives.

To address the challenges that many finance functions face, Edwards suggests “involving the right people”. He continues: “Set the goal, set the priorities, get the resources and go for it.” He also recommends having a strong coordinator in order to “bring the task together”.

Future technology, here

Naturally, upskilling entire finance departments is no simple task.

“We have the factor of competing tasks, so our day job versus transformation tasks. Too often you’ll find that your critical resources are required in both arenas, so if you’re serious about transforming, it may require investment in a specialist accountant / analyst to help deliver your goal,” explains Edwards.

Further, by focusing on certain skills and technologies, fiscal professionals can make significant headway in their respective journeys. For example, over 60% of those surveyed consider automation, analytical and modelling skills as critical to digital transformation, so these areas are a great starting point.

In terms of automation, finance teams can benefit hugely from implementing robotic process automation (RPA). In doing so, they can automate laborious and time-consuming tasks, such as invoice processing and bookkeeping. Not only does this save time, but it also reduces the risk of errors that can occur with manual data entry. Finance professionals can thus focus on more strategic tasks, which in turn can lead to innovation and company-wide growth.

Whilst MHR’s research shows that around one-third of respondents currently have a digital plan in place for RPA, this cannot be said for other emerging technologies, such as virtual assistants, process mining tools and AI. And yet, AI-powered tools can be used to analyse large streams of data and provide invaluable insights that can inform business decisions.


As a leader in the finance department, CFOs can help drive the transformation agenda by advocating digital skills. This starts with identifying skills gaps and developing training programmes that align with their organisations’ goals.

They can also lead by example and participate in upskilling programmes themselves, thereby demonstrating the importance of ongoing learning and development.

“As accountants, we  change with business evolution – we have always had to,” Edwards tells The CFO.

It is also key to collaborate with talent pipelines, such as educational institutions, to offer internships and apprenticeships. This provides students with hands-on experience and exposure to the industry, while also allowing an organisation to identify and nurture future hires.

“The journey through digitalisation is continual, and needs to be viewed as such, it is not something that should stand still, be timebound or thinking you can put your feet up once you complete a digitisation initiative,” Edwards adds.

Without the implementation of new technology and corresponding upskilling, organisations will quickly fall behind the competition. What’s more, they will struggle to catch-up, given the fast-paced nature of the fiscal environment today.

Undoubtedly, it is difficult to implement all the measures needed for the effective inception – and ongoing progression – of an organisation’s digital journey. However, as Edwards explains, with the right plan that is readily communicated, along with the benefits that digitalisation brings to those ready to learn, success is achievable and empowering to all stakeholders in the journey.


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