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Survey: Financial Pros Concerned They Could Become Obsolete

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 12/7/2018

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This past summer, more than 900 finance and treasury professionals took part in the 2018 AFP survey, “Your Personal Digital Readiness.” The survey revealed a concern among treasury and finance professionals that they could become obsolete.

We defined digital readiness as openness to learn about and apply leading technology and data trends. This openness required the skillsets of digital literacy—the ability to derive meaningful information from data, including compilation and analysis—and digital transformation—changing processes, systems and competencies to leverage digital technologies.

AFP wanted to consider digital readiness from the individual’s perspective because the topic has been covered extensively from the corporate point of view (or organization’s perspective) but less so on an individual level. In addition, the most common challenges to successful readiness or transformations include individual resistance, company culture, or lack of vision. These elements all relate back to the individual to whom these transformations are happening to, and who find themselves buffeted by increasingly frequent waves of retooling.

SURVEY RESULTS

There is real concern from finance and treasury professionals about becoming obsolete. Fifty percent are significantly or somewhat concerned about becoming obsolete if they cannot keep up with digital transformation.

While this may sound daunting, we also learned several tactical actions that individuals can take to make themselves digitally ready.

  • Be digital leaders in your home life. Digital readiness is a habit and being open to it in one environment helps to prepare you in another. Fully 77 percent of those who self-assessed as digital leading-edge adopters or fast followers at home assessed themselves the same in the office
  • Be expert on your existing tools. Even if these tools may become obsolete, the habit of becoming an expert and relying on tools is healthy.
  • Have a plan to keep learning. It is important to keep this issue in front of us, and continuous education is the new normal; 61 percent of all respondents and 69 percent of digital leaders have either a detailed or rough plan to increase their digital readiness. Fully 59 percent of respondents who thought they were already digital leaders believe they need to acquire additional technological skills.
  • Be self-motivated. Don’t rely on your company to manage your career. You may be moving faster than your company, thinking further ahead, and have a greater focus on your personal growth than your company. Three quarters of all respondents say they are responsible for their own digital readiness or share that jointly with their employer, and 22 percent put the onus on their employer alone.
  • Other ways that people are up-skilling themselves:
    • Join an IT project at their company, especially if it is cross-functional. Example: “Putting our new planning system into place pushed us ahead,” said an attendee of a recent AFP FP&A roundtable. The process of discovering software capabilities, the effort required to implement, and education of using the new system helped to develop data literacy during the process of deploying a sophisticated tool.
    • Engage with consultants to learn what is available in the market
    • Study independently through reading, courses, etc.

Three quarters of employers are helping their teams become more digitally ready:

  • Cover a portion of employee educational costs (49 percent)
  • Develop a culture of investing in employees (28 percent)
  • Provide time for education during the working day (22 percent)
  • Assist in developing a growth plan, such as mapping current skills to future requirements (12 percent)
  • Several common write-in responses including creating opportunities by developing projects that take employees beyond the routine functions of the department, sending employees to conferences, and holding brown bag lunches to share learnings.

There was a surprising finding from the survey—the general population of finance and treasury professionals felt confident in their current skills. For example, 64 percent self-assessed as excellent/above average data literacy, 62 percent as excellent/above average in technology and data management, and among leaders, 51 percent are significantly prepared or prepared to manage the accelerating change in technology and data. This leads to many interesting questions to explore.

However, there are reasons to question this outcome.

  • A recent CFO survey indicated that 64 percent of finance professionals lack sufficient skills in digital technology, and 63 percent of CFOs said their reporting and analytics is failing to keep pace with business demands
  • At the aforementioned FP&A roundtable, only one participant out of 20 said his team was above average/excellent in technology and data management
  • Another roundtable member noted that every group at her company had its own tool, and has achieved a level of proficiency in that tool but that does not make for a skilled finance team overall
  • Ram Balasubramaniam, a member of the AFP FP&A test writing committee, noted: “Many people are comfortable doing their day-to-day jobs and think they are doing well, but are not fully aware of the technological options available. They think we know the depths of our tools when in reality we are only using a small percentage.”

AFP’s FP&A Advisory Council considers this survey result to be excessive confidence among members that presents a challenge and danger to organizations. As stated earlier, the most serious impediment to technological change is human: culture or individual resistance. If finance self-assesses as being on the leading edge of digital today, they may be less willing to see a need for change as waves of innovation on the horizon draw closer. That leaves the function and individuals behind our corporate colleagues, marginalized in strategic decisions, and less effective in our roles as stewards of capital.

If finance is not forward-looking digitally, then who will be?

This finance and treasury survey was open to respondents during August 2018. More than 900 practitioners responded, representing an almost equal mix of companies with revenues greater than $5 billion, between $500 million to $5 billion and less than $500 million. Cutting the companies differently, 41 percent were public companies, 38 percent were private (split evenly between private equity and non-PE), and 21 percent were not-for-profit or governments. Fifty-four percent describe themselves as US/Canada entities, 31 percent as non-US/Canada, and the balance as global.

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