Dee Houchen, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Oracle EMEA
In the digital age, the finance department has moved out from under the cover of the back office and straight into the heart of the modern digital business. With notable advances in the volume, breadth, and speed of data that businesses collect today has come the need for finance to significantly broaden its expertise.
David Leinweber, former Haas Fellow in Finance at the University of California at Berkeley, recently argued that “the skill sets of future CFOs must add, at least in some measure, the head of a programmer, the body of a statistician, the arms of an exploratory visual data analyst and the tail of a machine-learning expert”.
Leinweber was indeed on the right track: there is little doubt that companies are seeking more than just traditional finance skills from employees. Data analysis expertise as it applies to a range of business functions including sales, marketing, partnerships, and investor relations, is becoming increasingly important when seeking new hires.
That being said, the best finance recruits will display much more than just a broader range of technical abilities. Increasingly, finance professionals are also expected to have strong managerial capabilities – strategic thinking, the ability to mentor and lead their colleagues – as their insights become more valuable to executive level decision-making. It is with these so-called softer skills that the best workers will differentiate themselves in an organisation and climb the corporate ladder.
A recent survey underlines this reality, with finance-specific results indicating that leadership ability is among the most important skills for any individual that wants to become a CFO or chief executive. Businesses want skilled accountants, but they also want their hires to fill managerial roles down the line and help continue to grow the role of finance within the business.
And yet, according to recent global research, leadership is at-once one of the most desired qualities in new recruits and one of the least possessed. At the same time, demand for well-roundedfinance professionals has never been higher. In the UK, for example, finance directors are on a clear mission to develop the expertise of their team, with three quarters expecting to match or increase their recruitment budgets in 2015.
With such a noted skills gap in the field, companies must do whatever they can to attract and retain exceptional workers that actually meet their expectations and help them modernise their business. They will have little hope of developing a strong finance talent pool if they cannot attract the best recruits to begin with. Our own research in this field suggests that promising young workers,who feel isolated from the data-driven trends currently driving the world’s leading companies, are in fact likely to seek that satisfaction elsewhere, even if they are already employed.
Talented people want to work in an environment with cutting edge tools that match their expertise and abilities. To attract the brightest financial minds, companies will need to supply young talent with the modern financial tools and technologies they need to help truly impact the business. Without the solutions in place to collect and analyse the data they collect, organisations cannot expect their finance employees to examine this information in the new, often surprising ways that will breed innovative business strategies. Just as importantly, finance teams will find it difficult to share and action the insights they uncover with the rest of the organisation, which means the potential of these revelations will remain unfulfilled.
Cutting-edge technology is inextricable from the needs of finance today. It is the facilitator behind modern finance’s evolving role within the organisation. Of course, it still represents only part of the equation. Coping with modern business challenges is ultimately a human problem, and one that young finance professionals want to be fully involvedin addressing. They want to work in places where their ideas are heard and where they can contribute to developing business strategies. They want to follow ambitious career path, and lead teams to innovative conclusions that will help the business as a whole operate more intelligently.
The new generation of top-level employees are fully aware of the healthy appetite for their expertise in the finance market. They will ask themselves each day if they are working in the most effective and efficient way possible. If the answer to that question is “no” too many days in a row, the choice will be simple: they find an environment that does fulfil them in that way.
 Winning the war on finance talent: game plan for the digital age, WSJCS & Oracle, 2015