Digital Transformation

Reskilling in the age of automation

In the era of automation overhaul, finance workers look to secure their place in the organizational future.
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· 3 min read

Besides the ever-present concern about possible layoffs, finance workers also find themselves facing another existential threat: automation. Human labor certainly could be better used in ways other than crunching numbers in Excel, but that’s not necessarily comforting for those sitting in soon-to-be-automated roles. Experts tell CFO Brew reskilling isn’t impossible, and employees should be asking their finance leaders for help.

The prospect of certain parts of finance being automated has caused a stir in sectors like accounting, where much of the number-crunching could be allocated to robots. A February survey from Gartner found that more than 40% of finance roles will be reshaped into new positions or lost entirely due to technology between now and 2025.

Fear not—as Geraldine Garaud, director analyst at Gartner, told CFO Brew—technology is never going to fully dispose of people, and may allow us to cross more boring tasks off our to-do lists. “We’re leaving the technology to run the transaction,” leaving mundane things out of workers’ to-do lists, she said.

One of the first areas where automation has had an impact is financial reporting. With the use of automated reporting tools, companies now turn to technology to generate financial statements. But as CFO Brew has reported, that doesn’t mean that the reporting manager role has ceased to exist; it’s now focused instead on more of the project management side of gathering information, and the increasing (and shifting) requirements coming from the SEC.

The process functions—such as order to cash, procure to pay, record to report—are where technology could have the biggest impact, Garaud told CFO Brew. “Those roles are completely going to shift, the transaction processing piece is going to go to the technology angle.”

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Companies are taking two approaches, Garaud said. Some are upskilling their existing staff by launching digital skill programs. Others have decided to appeal to a new sort of technology- minded financial talent.

For those who are not being offered reskilling initiatives by their current companies, it could be wise to start learning coding languages such as Python or become “digital experts” in how digital systems can be used to solve financial problems, Garaud added.

In a blog from Bain Capital Ventures, the VC offshoot of investment company Bain Capital, associate Tina Dimitrova argued that finance orgs ought to invest in some of the newer, younger, next-Gen-friendly tech products such as flexible pricing models and automating payment receivables to modernize their workforce. But, does that include the Gen Z talent? Well, maybe not.

Dimitrova wrote that technology used for forecasting purposes companies will actually replace “the need to hire a CFO for some small business operator-owners”—not the greatest way to attract talent. The investment company did point to an emerging role in finance though: FinOps, or financial operations, saying that new technology has given rise to this part of the finance function.

“If you’re a current employee a bit wary of the technology angle, if you don’t want to learn Python, for example, I would really focus on building finance, business-partnering skills,” Garaud said. “You need to push yourself away from the generalist into the expert kind of roles.”—KT

News built for finance pros

The latest news and insights corporate finance professionals need to know to keep up with their constantly evolving industry.