Creating a Digital Workforce in Finance - SAKS Financial Services

Think of your surroundings 12 years ago. Did you see the difference in technological eruption? Digital technologies are transforming everything we do and how we do it in many ways. New technologies are emerging at a faster pace than we have witnessed ever before. Digital technology has become a substance in our thinking pattern. Finance Organizations across the world are rapidly adopting new technological advancements especially through automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has become a familiar word in the finance industry.
However, just following the crowd doesn’t always land yourself at the correct place. Technology without talent can fail. In simple terms, cutting headcount and adding technology will not work. Companies have to align the present finance workforce to the promise of tomorrow’s technologies. Technology is creating new capabilities that create new demands for the usual way of working. To cater to that demand workforce needs to have a new skillset.

The usual finance tasks involve processing data in manual spreadsheets, creating reports, performing reconciliations, getting approvals, and many other tasks. Technology can help automate and streamline these processes like the way humans do. Although, this may seem like losing a lot of finance work there will be different other avenues which will generate demand for finance work. Business partnering is one such avenue that will continue to be extremely critical than before. Technology will give faster access to important information and there will be a rapid prerequisite to interpret that information to help in creating significant decisions. The digital workforce needs to be created with the skills to interpret data. The most skilled and creative employees will have the ability to resolve complex financial issues in a more productive, innovative environment.

Upskilling Workforce

Organizations are heading towards the digital transformation needs to focus on upskilling the current employees through training & development. Organizations need to identify employees who are critical for future operations. Training and development programs have to be created to enhance their skills. There will be areas in finance that the skills needed in the future are predictable. For example functions like treasury management will not have a huge impact compared to accounts payable or business partnering support. Organizations need to focus on upskilling more employees in those highly volatile areas in finance. For roles like business partnering support employees needs to have an understanding of different customer requirements. There are many external institutions, universities that can be linked to fulfilling the training and development needs. Many financial bodies have already started training their professionals to match the technological changes in the business world.

Organizations should also note that there will be a set of employees who will have to be replaced rather than upskill as sometimes it becomes easier to teach a duckling how to swim compared to a normal bird. To create a digital workforce organization has to take strong decisions focusing on future stability.

New Deal for Talent

The digital transformation will require a diversified workforce that is multi-talented. Being a professional only in Finance will no longer help the employees grow up in their career ladder.
Organizations will need finance storytellers for business partnering support who has finance, marketing, and public relations skills. There will be a demand for IT and finance domain experts to run the big automation projects. Organizations can borrow different types of talent from different departments of the organization. Buying these types of multi-talents outside of the organization can be costly and it will be in short supply as technology companies and other business functions are also looking to hire these
kinds of talents. Once organizations have a mix of talent pools, organizations have to ensure that knowledge is transferred to all the people.

Location of Employees

With the new technologies, location will matter less than how it used to be. There will be a need for a global resource pool, shared service centres, centres of excellence which will enable us to manage the work more effectively. There will be a time where resources are shared among different businesses in the world. The recent Covid’19 implications proved that the location of employees doesn’t create much impact if the employees are tech-savvy to connect and perform their duties with the use of technology. For BPM organizations this will be an added advantage as most of them already function in shared service centres. Creating shared services centres which can serve different domains and giving the workforce the experience in a shared services centre would widen up many opportunities. This will also reduce the problem of the skilled labour shortage. The workplace will have different types of workers in the future. Not everyone will be a permanent full-time employee. There will be many part-timers, contractors who serve different organizations. The workplace needs to be flexible to enable the digital workforce in the future.

Use of Predictive Analytics

The future will be uncertain with rapidly changing technological advancements. Predictive analytics in sourcing, evaluations in different recruiting sources, forecasting the requirements will help to get better decisions rather than blindly taking decisions to build capable employees. RPA and AI will definitely change the processes of accounts payable, cashflow handling, accounts receivable functions. But still, nothing can be fully automated without human intervention. Predicting where the human touch is needed will help to model future roles and required capabilities.

Motivated Team

There is fear among many employees with less job security coming from digital automation. Employees today demand more than a paycheque. Employees need to feel respected for their contribution, recognition for their knowledge, and value additions they bring on to the organizations. Through the programs of continuous learning, offering people to enhance their qualifications, and showing them the path of how their skills can be linked with the new technologies demand will keep the employees secured and motivated. Organizations’ talent strategy needs to balance both the needs of employers and employees. It is vital to prove to the existing staff that creating ‘capacity and scale’ is the highest payoff.

Wholistic Business Experience

Through the new digital technologies’ future may seem uncertain but there is no question finance will continue to offer various career opportunities. Old-style career paths will become less linear but there will be novel openings. Today, the career paths of employees run from an associate-level to a manager level in a particular area. But in future critical finance jobs are likely to demand a wholistic business domain expertise as contrasting to specializing only in accounting or treasury for example. There will be a demand for accountants with RPA skills and statistical analytics. RPA automating finance tasks will cut down many manual tasks and the finance experts remaining in the departments should be generalists possessing a wide area of knowledge. Encouraging rotation is one method to give employees more exposure to different parts of the business. Assigning people to special projects to gain leadership exposure, acquire new skills, and build networks also can help create more diversified knowledge.

Finance Connecting with Other Departments

Finance will have to work hand in hand with HR, IT, Risks, and other departments to build the digital workforce required. Finance should take the lead in defining the future roles and competences. Then the finance will need the help of HR to determine if the talents are to be built, hired, or mixed. When the finance department starts to build technological skills within the finance workforce, the IT department will be invaluable. Their knowledge of RPA, Big Data will guide the technical decisions finance has to take. With all these changes, organizations will still have to measure the regulatory compliances, risks involved with the changes. Risks and audit colleagues will be in need. Marketing and internal communication teams will keep everyone up-to-date with the changes and reduce the uncertainty among the workforce. Accelerating on building the digital workforce is a collaborative task with all the departments in the organization.

Choose a Leader

Obtaining digital technology into the organization is not a one-step approach. It will be a big change management project affecting all the parts of the business and not only finance. A leader who possesses good business knowledge, finance expertise, who is passionate about the future will only be able to drive the finance change along with the workforce. Selecting a good leader to drive the change, building up a project management team with diversified backgrounds and skills will be a good approach to the
the success of embracing digital technology to finance.

Way Forward

Organizations can select to worry about future changes or can focus on what is ahead and drive fast to achieve it. The era with the typewriter changing to a computer made employees learn the computer. Employees who took a step back faced disappointments. Digital automation can be considered as a second major wave in the finance sector. Digital advancements make some employees work more efficient and that automation will not necessarily replace them. Upskilling, motivation and collaboration are the key strategies to create a digitally-enabled workforce in Finance and co-up with the competition.