“It was the best of times, the worst of times”; the opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities. But Dickens's description of the French Revolution could also be applied to the current state of the finance world.
It’s a world which is also seeing its own kind of revolution, in the form of digital technology. It has had a turbulent effect, opening up new opportunities whilst also threatening long established skills and roles.
For Finance Directors, it has presented a particular challenge as they try to cope with the changing role and prepare team members for the future.
These pressures have been explored in a survey by Robert Half, a UK based recruitment company which specialises in the finance sector. Their research has showed that 63 percent of the 180 FDs surveyed believed that existing team members would need additional training to cope with future demands.
The main reasons given were to:
• Provide skills needed for changing roles
• Improve the team’s efficiency
• Invest in staff and retain valued team members
The main methods used to provide additional skills to employees was through ‘on the job’ mentoring with existing staff and by bringing in specialist trainers. The skills being taught were aimed at giving finance team members a wider skill-set with greater emphasis on analysis of data, rather than collection and processing.
Andrew Wilkins, Finance Director at VolkerRail Group, said: “To support growth, we had to make sure we had the right people in the right roles within the finance team. This meant giving capable people an opportunity to go up a level and we now feel more confident that the team can support future growth.”
For others, however, the answer has been to look for different qualities when it comes to recruiting new team members. The general trend was for a greater emphasis on people with business experience and management skills to complement the team’s core accountancy function.
For Alan Sievewright of BlackRock International Ltd, the opportunity to build a finance team from scratch allowed him to put these theories into practice.
He said: “My aim was to pick people from a mix of backgrounds, not just from the accounting profession. People coming from industry have a good understanding of financial control and will often come up with a better way of doing things.”
When asked what the priority for finance teams in the future should be, 40 percent of FDs said it was to make best use of technology. Cloud computing was viewed as being an increasing influence with internal IT teams being replaced by software as a service solutions such as Webexpenses.
So the finance teams of the future should be made up of accountancy experts who are also tech-wizards with business experience and the ability to sift through an avalanche of financial data to find that one golden nugget.
But in the absence of these financial superheroes, the reality is more likely to be slightly smaller teams with a greater mix of business skills to complement the core accountancy role.