Since the pandemic altered our lives, technology has changed the way we live and work. With many of us finding ourselves in an increasingly ‘hybrid’ world split between home and office, some employment sectors are struggling more than others to adapt to new ways of working.
For the finance sector, digitisation has been more slowly welcomed - a speed that has had a knock-on negative impact for stakeholders. From the independent certified public accountant to the vast accountancy firm, technology is transforming how we work, and if you’re not on board, you’ll be left behind.
For decades, generations of finance professionals - particularly sole traders and those at small firms - have been used to doing certain tasks on paper, or with basic computer processes - their clients used to working in this way too. The pandemic hastened the inevitable change, and digital transformation has seen new software expediting manual tasks, leaving some businesses and workers in a skills slump as they come to terms with the need to update their working practices.
A financial strategy for success
Some large financial firms are making the most of their position as digital pioneers, offering services to clients on all things tech, and advising on how finance may look in the future and a strategy for how to get there in ways best suited to your organisation. This may include identifying areas and processes to change, how to facilitate it, as well as managing practical services and analytics.
Online learning opportunities are another way to ensure everyone in the business understands new systems and processes, useful as part of ‘blended’ theoretical and practical on-the-job learning.
So how do we begin to integrate new digital processes and help employees gain confidence in using them? First, be clear about your vision for your organisation. Then ensure a ‘digital first’ strategy across the business and pinpoint the areas most urgently needing to be updated. Also be clear on what you want to achieve, and ensure senior leadership is suitably equipped and confident to implement change across their teams and know what to prioritise.
It goes without saying that this period of transition can be alarming for those not yet ready or happy about embracing the changes. A survey run by Sage in 2019 revealed that many firms felt inhibited in adopting digital solutions, with a lack of funds and expertise cited as the main issues. As the dust continues to settle post-pandemic, there’s a stark divide between those who were able to adapt to specialist software and automation and those who struggled. Those wanting to stay in business at all will be forced to upgrade their systems and knowledge to ensure survival.
Mastering new financial tools
Jobs that professionals might typically have expected to do on entering the sector will soon become rarer, taken over by digitisation. Roles will demand new sets of skills in order to understand how to manage the technology and spot areas for improvement. A problem-solving mindset will be as important as practical technical ability and awareness of market forces.
The need to work with analytical software and understand data processes will be part of emerging entry-level jobs, and a creative vision will be beneficial in managing systems that deliver clear information to stakeholders.
Those looking to join the sector would do well to hone their skills relating to modelling, analysis, reporting and automation. The basic programs to set you on your journey are Microsoft Excel and Access to understand how robotic process automation (RPA) works - and look out for tutorials and tools that will increase your understanding of Corporate Performance Management tools.
Knowing the secrets of the technology is not enough - having the ability to communicate technical processes to stakeholders who don’t is vital.
A bright future in finance
The wonderful thing about our sector is its accessibility: anyone with an aptitude for figures, tech, or project management will find a place, whether a school leaver, graduate or someone looking for a career change. Someone entering the workforce would typically expect to learn on the job - so an audit trainee or accounts administrator will still learn key skills such as communication, reporting, processing, and working to deadlines.
Many companies also provide additional support for the completion of professional qualifications, and increasingly, soft skills are sought after as much as technical ones, such as coding and programming. Continued training for staff is vital to ensure experienced employees do not fall behind young colleagues entering the workforce, who may be more tech-savvy.
Entry-level workers may benefit the most, quickly finding their skills sets widening as digital adoption takes over. Mastering the basics, and a willingness to keep up to date with automation changes, will place those just starting their careers in a strong position as they climb the corporate ladder.
While middle management will be at the coalface, chief financial officers will be obliged to stay ahead of the game by strategising for a wholly digital future on top of standard duties, as well as navigating a challenging external environment.
It’s important to remember that technology is there to support and not replace professionals. With mundane and repetitive work such as data entry automated, professionals will be able to focus on more creative work like forecasting and data presentation. Skills will still be required in areas where human problem-solving is necessary, such as in decision-making around processes, and understanding how to get the best from new technologies. And, perhaps the best thing for the sector, is that it will now attract people who may not have previously considered a financial career.
Digital transformation is fast-lane stuff. It has been said that the pandemic accelerated technological advancements by seven years. Embracing it is the only option for finance and accountancy workers.
To find your next accountancy role, or the best candidates on the market, find your local Reed office.