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As businesses transition to a digital environment, they are starting to recognise that their accounting and finance departments need talent with skills fit for this new age.
We operate in a dynamic world where the pace of technology-driven change is unprecedented, rapid and increasing. Digital transformation is no longer an option but a necessity if a business wants not only to survive but also to thrive. Trends such as cloud computing, Big Data, mobile and social collaboration are also influencing developments in cyber security, digital service delivery, robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and Artificial Intelligence.
The finance function is part of that new world. The ways in which finance departments communicate and collaborate with other business functions are changing. They have the opportunity to automate time-consuming and repetitive work and focus on consolidating their role as advisers on financial, strategic and operational aspects of the business.
But as the remit of the finance function evolves in response to the emergence of digital, it also calls for new skills that are fit-for-purpose in the digital world.
In fact, the ACCA recently published the results of a two-year study on the essential new skills that finance staff should have to better support their organisations in the changing business environment. One of those skills is a ‘digital quotient’ defined as the awareness of existing and emerging applications, software and digital tools, and the appropriate use of them.
It may be stating the obvious, but nowadays finance staff need to be digitally savvy. They need to be able to use smart software for real-time reporting and to extract the most relevant information from the vast volumes of data that a business generates. They need to be able to analyse that data efficiently and present it in a way that also makes sense to a non-financially minded reader.
Of course, it is not always possible to hire someone who is already an accomplished user of specialist financial software and of business intelligence and data analytics.
At the very least, however, candidates should be able to prove they have a digital mindset and that they are keeping up-to-date with advancements in relevant technology. They need to be comfortable with data and logic and have an appetite and aptitude for learning and for digital working.
Candidates should also be aware of the new business risks that have arisen as a result of digitisation. Cyber-security is perhaps the most serious risk - according to government research, two thirds of large UK businesses were hit by cyber breach or attack in 2015/2016. Therefore, the right candidate needs to be astute and naturally sceptical.
Nevertheless, finding a candidate with skills fit for the digital age may still be a challenge. Last year, a parliamentary report revealed that 12.6m adults in the UK lack even the basic digital skills. The problem is likely to grow too, with approximately 766,000 new jobs requiring digital skills projected across the UK by 2020, 47% of which are estimated to be in London.
Businesses, and larger ones in particular, needn’t confine their search for the right talent to the UK. The “cloud” enables remote working, which means your credit control or other finance personnel doesn’t have to be based in your UK office. Smaller businesses could also consider hiring their bookkeeping and accounting staff from overseas, where the labour is often less expensive, more accessible and more willing to work, and allowing them to work remotely.
Wade Macdonald’s ‘Accountancy and Finance Insights’ series aims to explore some of the real challenges and opportunities facing professionals in this space. Stay tuned for further insight.