The new skills mix of modern finance

Profile picture for user dhouchen By Dee Houchen June 8, 2015
Summary:
Companies expect much more than just traditional finance skills from employees, argues Oracle's Dee Houchen.

new skills
The digital age has brought the finance department out from under the cover of the back office and straight into the heart of the modern business.

To take advantage of the advances in the volume, breadth, and speed of data that businesses can now collect, finance needs to significantly broaden its expertise.

David Leinweber, former Haas Fellow in Finance at the University of California at Berkeley, recently argued that:

 The skill sets of future CFOs must add, at least in some measure, the head of a programmer, the body of a statistician, the arms of an exploratory visual data analyst and the tail of a machine-learning expert.

Leinweber was on the right track: companies expect much more than just traditional finance skills from employees. Data analysis expertise as it applies to sales, marketing, partnerships, and investor relations is becoming increasingly important when seeking new hires.

That said, the best finance recruits display much more than just a broader range of technical abilities. They are also expected to have strong managerial capabilities – strategic thinking, the ability to mentor and lead their colleagues – as their insights become more valuable to executive decision-makers. It is with these “softer skills” that the best workers will differentiate themselves and climb the corporate ladder.

A recent CGMA survey underlines this reality, indicating that leadership ability is one of the most important skills for anyone that wants to become a CFO or chief executive. Businesses want skilled accountants to be sure, but they also want hires that can fill managerial roles down the line and help the role of finance evolve within the business.

And yet, while leadership is one of the most desired qualities in new recruits it is also one of the least possessed. At a time when demand for well-rounded finance professionals has never been higher, this is disconcerting indeed.

Attracting the best

Faced with such a noted skills gap, companies must do whatever they can to find and retain exceptional workers that actually meet their expectations and can help carry their business into the digital age.

However, they will have little hope of doing so if they cannot attract the best recruits to begin with.

Oracle’s own research in this field suggests that promising young workers, who feel isolated from the data-driven trends currently driving the world’s leading companies, are in fact likely to seek that satisfaction elsewhere, even if they are already employed.

Talented people want to work with cutting edge tools that match their expertise and ambitions. To attract the brightest financial minds, companies need to supply young talent with the modern financial tools and technologies they need to help truly impact the business.

For example, without the solutions in place to collect and analyse the data they collect, organisations cannot expect their finance employees to examine this information in the new, often surprising ways that will breed innovative business strategies.

Cutting-edge technology is inextricable from the needs of finance today. It is the facilitator behind modern finance’s evolving role within the organisation.

Of course, it still represents only part of the equation. Coping with modern business challenges is ultimately a human problem, and one that young workers want to be fully involved in addressing. They want to work in an environment where their ideas are heard and where they can contribute to developing business strategies.

Ultimately, the new generation of top-level employees are fully aware of the healthy appetite for their expertise in the finance market. They will ask themselves each day if they are working in the most effective and efficient way possible. If the answer to that question is “no” too many days in a row, they will simply seek out an environment that does fulfil them in that way.