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Identifying the future function of your people

Simon Davidson Simon Davidson

Finance functions have always been told to future-proof for tomorrow’s business needs and have always had the time to do so. Systems, markets and priorities all evolve, as do jobs, but never before has the pace of change outpaced our ability to consider how best to manage it

That luxury may soon be a thing of the past. The speed of technological advances is getting faster, not slower. With the rapid emergence and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms and self-learning software are already changing the business landscape, including that of the finance function and the people within it. Are you ready? 

Managing expectations in a shifting landscape
If you were 20 years old in 1950, the chances were that you’d still be in the same finance profession fulfilling more or less the same function by the time you were 50 or 60 – and you were entitled to expect as much. By contrast, a 20-year old entering a finance function today has no idea what their job will look like in just 10 years’ time, or whether it will still exist.

Compared to the advent of automation - the last great industrial revolution - the changes to underlying financial processes brought about by AI will have a substantially bigger impact on the people agenda.

We all must ask ourselves: what skills will be needed in a future finance function if an intelligent software package could soon out-perform and out-pace people fulfilling certain roles? And to help to answer that, what role do you want your finance function to play within your organisation?

That there will be job changes from this next evolution is not in question. What skills to transition, what skills to keep and what skills to acquire or develop are the questions a CFO will be asking, and long before the AI is in-place.

Identifying valuable transferrable skills
Millions of years of evolution prove what business knows: that to survive you must adapt. Those with newly-necessary skills will be vital, but could you readily identify them? What those skills are will depend partly on your business and your finance function, something our consultants can help identify.

To future-proof truly, you must look to those coming through – apprentices, trainees, new recruits perhaps just starting off in finance. When hiring, businesses must increasingly consider not whether candidates can do the job now, but whether they could do other jobs later, because change will surely come - and quickly. What key skills will determine whether they're hired or not? Are the technical experts who are uncomfortable outside of their comfort zone most at-risk of extinction? Or do they have obvious transferable skills?

All this requires objectivity, foresight, in-depth knowledge of finance and an idea of what will be needed, gained after seeing and helping many finance functions adapt for tomorrow. 

It's quite a shift. Suddenly, for a function traditionally associated with numbers and bottom lines, the future is going to include more focus on emotional intelligence, transferable skills, initiative and instinct. You need to be able to identify what you have, what you need and how to get from A to Beyond today. 

It’s a tough old world, nobody said it wasn’t. But if we get it right now, we’re setting people up for careers, not just jobs. That's why at Grant Thornton we’re hugely proud of our partnership work with Babington on our industry-leading Accountancy Apprenticeship Programme and urge you to take advantage of it when planning the role of your future finance function and the skills needed to deliver it. For further information on how high-growth businesses are tackling key challenges on talent and skills, see our recent People Power report or contact a member of our Business Consulting team who can help.

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