What’s Challenging Today’s Finance Leaders?

  • 90% of finance leaders say accounts payable is the finance job most likely to be taken over by automation;
  • Risk management is least likely;
  • 50% say cyber security is the most important digital technology trend to impact their job;
  • 45% say the biggest business challenge facing them over the next 12 months is adopting new technologies.

Adopting new technologies is the biggest business challenge facing today’s finance leaders and while accounts payable is most likely to be taken over by automation, risk management will remain safe.That’s the view of 374 Australian & New Zealand finance leaders, who share their perspectives in a new report by recruiting experts Hays, What’s Challenging Today’s Finance Leaders?

45% said the biggest business challenge facing them over the next 12 months is adopting new technologies, followed by the economic environment (40%), the skills and knowledge gap of their team (39%), managing risk (38%), and company culture and business partnering with other functions (both 31%).

Cyber security is the digital technology trend they say will become most important in their role (50%), followed by real-time (48%), big data (46%), new payment technologies (28%) and artificial intelligence (24%).

As for the jobs that will be partly or fully automated, 90% indicated accounts payable, closely followed by payroll (78%), bookkeeping (73%), data analysis & modelling (64%) and credit control (53%). Those in least danger include risk management (17%), budgeting (24%), treasury (30%), financial operations (33%) and accountancy & audit (45%).

Looking at the expertise new finance recruits will require to be successful in future, an overwhelming 54% nominated strategic business partnering skills. This was followed by digital and technology (21%), technical accounting (14%), management and regulatory reporting (6%), and risk management (5%) skills.

“A sure sign of the times, what is keeping today’s finance leaders awake at night more so now than ever, are IT and digital related challenges such as cyber security, big data and automation rendering some job functions defunct,” says David Cawley, Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance in Australia.

“The fourth industrial revolution is on our doorstep, so it’s surprising that artificial intelligence is comparatively low on the list of digital technology trends that finance leaders say will become more important to their job in future. This is expected to change in the years ahead though as organisations experiment with new software.”

Other findings include:

  • 98% of finance leaders say soft skills such as communication, interpersonal and leadership are as important, or even more so, than technical skills;
  • 38% said professionals with the right soft skills are the most challenging to find, ahead of technical skills (29%) and industry-specific skills, writing skills or local talent (33%);
  • 35% say their greatest professional challenge is achieving company objectives;
  • This was followed by finding time to pursue their career development (13%) and managing work-life balance (10%);
  • 58% think it is both the finance and IT departments’ responsibility to keep finance staff up-to-date with the latest technologies;
  • 48% employ contract or temporary staff with a further 30% doing so sometimes. Just 22% do not use temporary or contract staff in their finance department;
  • Succession planning is the most popular talent mapping strategy (55%), followed by a management development program (51%), mapping talent to organisational goals (35%), international secondments or careers (21%) and data analysis to identify talent (15%);
  • The most popular staff retention strategy is recognising a job well done (85%), followed by training and learning & development (77%), flexibility and work-life balance (74%), communicating their value to the organisation (67%) and providing a clear career path (56%).
  • The most common flexible work practices currently utilised in finance teams are flexible hours (86%), part-time employment (61%), flexible leave options (52%) and flex-place (49%). These were ahead of job share (24%), career breaks (19%) and phased retirements (10%);
  • Only 4% of finance leaders do not offer any flexible work practices to their team.
  • These findings are based on face-to-face interviews with 374 finance leaders across Australia & New Zealand. Their most common job titles were Chief Financial Officer (36%), (Senior) Financial Controller or
  • Group Financial Controller (20%), Finance Manager (14%), Finance Director (6%) and General Manager (5%).

The full report, What’s Challenging Today’s Finance Leaders?, is available at www.hays.com.au/finance-leaders

About Prof Janek Ratnatunga 1129 Articles
Professor Janek Ratnatunga is CEO of the Institute of Certified Management Accountants. He has held appointments at the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Australian National University in Australia; and the Universities of Washington, Richmond and Rhode Island in the USA. Prior to his academic career he worked with KPMG.
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