Technology has changed at breakneck speed over the past ten years, and keeping pace with this constant evolution is a challenge for all organisations and business functions. Finance is no exception. Without bringing in and harnessing the right digital skills, finance teams risk becoming outdated and unfit for purpose.

Michael Page Finance’s Operating Director Daniel Eaton recently spoke at a digital event hosted by AccessPay, discussing the ongoing transformation of finance functions and where a strong talent strategy fits in. Read on for key insights to inform your finance team’s future planning.

Why finance departments need tech transformation skills 

Where businesses are not already technologically enabled, the adoption curve for AI and other future tech becomes steeper and steeper. At the event, Daniel commented:

We’ve seen big digital transformation projects happening with real frequency and regularity. Businesses increasingly have a thirst for that technology, what it could bring to the business, and how it could help the bottom line. For instance, the ability to gather and analyse data in real time is key. If I’ve already got someone sitting there manually reconciling a set of accounts and set of payments, then it’s going to be really difficult if I’ve not got real-time data.

How should finance functions be deployed in the era of automation? 

Daniel noted that finance has had to work hard to contribute a real value-add. 

As technology has expanded what businesses can automate, the finance professional of 20 to 30 years ago has disappeared. Today, finance teams are entrenched in the organisation, adding more value.

Indeed, at Michael Page we have seen a steady increase in the popularity of business partner roles, where organisations pair their finance functions with a variety of departments, allowing them to understand wider business goals and how finance can best support these. Furthermore, finance has become more involved in decision-making.

Daniel said: 

We’re seeing more and more finance people move from finance director roles to managing director. It’s a fairly well-trodden path because, in finance, you’ve got to have an appreciation of all the different departments  — you’ve got to support decision-making across the board.

Which skills are driving transformation in finance departments?

A robust tech stack provides businesses with the data they need to make real-time decisions. This is key to an effective, well-functioning finance department.

Daniel says that the most important skills can be split into two categories: modernisation and compliance. When it comes to modernisation, the ability of finance professionals to effectively communicate with non-finance professionals is essential. Daniel commented:  

Organisations should seek out finance candidates who bring new technology and new systems with them. It could be that they’ve seen a tool or technology in a previous business that can help drive the profitability and efficiency of that organisation. Whether you’re sitting in a business partnering job where you’re meeting with the head of marketing once a month, or even if you’re a more tech-focused accountant, that ability to go out and talk to non-finance people is key, as is the ability to understand the needs of those departments.

Daniel also noted that compliance has been hovering close to the top of business agendas since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. It’s a particularly high priority for organisations looking to attract investment. 

We’ve got GDPR, IFRS changes, and UK SOX possibly coming down the line. This has created big demand for people who can understand upcoming challenges, and people who can drive those changes throughout the organisation.

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Attracting and retaining top finance talent in 2023

An effective employee value proposition (EVP) and talent retention strategy are vital in a difficult market like this one. A strong EVP will help you attract high-calibre professionals who can drive effective transformation and manage continued change. Meanwhile, good retention rates will give an organisation stability during periods of change and during adoption of new technologies. Daniel said: 

Getting your retention strategy right will help you keep your top people. It’s then going to be a lot easier to attract the people you want into the business.

Salary has certainly become more of a priority for candidates during the cost-of-living crisis. And, as detailed in our 2023 Finance Salary Guide, expected earnings have risen sharply over the past year due to candidate shortages. 

But salary is not the only factor in attracting top finance talent. Candidates are also looking more deeply into the culture of the organisation, often wanting to know:

  • What is it like to work at the organisation?
  • What is the company’s DE&I strategy?
  • What is its ESG stance?
  • What is the company doing to be more sustainable?

Furthermore, candidates are looking at the wider benefits on offer, from parental leave and pensions to personal development, flexible working, and cycle-to-work schemes.

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Tapping the Millennial and Gen Z talent pool

Millennials and Generation Z professionals are both ambitious and highly familiar with technology. This poses a distinct hiring challenge: finance functions can no longer easily hire graduates to perform data entry, administrative functions, or similar entry level roles. Discussing the expectations of younger candidates, Daniel commented: 

Generationally, people want different things now, and have different demands. It’s harder to attract young candidates to do those jobs, because they are ambitious and want to enter senior positions fast.

To effectively tap this new talent pool, businesses must be able to connect the dots between what they need and what younger candidates are looking for. In addition to giving Millennial and Generation Z talent the opportunity to work with the latest tech, finance departments will need to offer clear promotion and development pathways. 

What’s next?

The first step to modernising your finance function is a skills audit. Here’s some guidance on achieving that efficiently. If, on the other hand, you’re ready to start hiring, download our salary guide or get in touch with the team to start finding your next top hire. 

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