These are the top 3 skills you need to future proof your finance career

The rise of automation and AI presents opportunities and threats in equal measure. The nature of work is changing and the value of skills is in a state of flux.

There are potentially significant skills gap in the finance profession. Some of the skills that CFOs regard as crucial for success in the next 5 years are currently perceived as being weaker areas amongst finance professionals overall, according to a survey of more than 50 CFOs by Ignition Global Consulting.

The top three skills that will become more important to Finance professionals over the next 5 years are:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Commercial acumen
  • Communication

Finance professionals are currently seen to be strong in Technical Accounting; Problem Solving; Analytical Skills; and Technical IT Skills.

Whilst the top 3 most important skills for the next 5 years are rated as the bottom 3 in terms of current skill levels. So for any finance professional with ambitions to progress and future proof your career these are skills that you should work on developing and adding to your strengths.

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We asked four CFOs for their opinion:

Considering Finance professionals at all levels, what do you think are the main strengths of Finance professionals today?

Hafiz Roslan: Finance professionals today embrace changes better than before. For example, many that I know are more comfortable working with big data and seek to be trained in skills that will allow them to work with the data better (eg. Advanced excel, BI, etc)

Vikas Ralhan: Today’s finance professional is a strong believer of automation driven collaboration having BCP mind-set with an eye on ROI. He is stronger than before and evolving around people & business hence ultimately the strongest business partner in team.

Finance professional of next-normal is

  • Digitally sound,
  • Collaborative and forward looking, &
  • Ready with Plan B.

Rajat Gupta: Finance professionals have inbuilt qualities of being resilient and adoptable. Thus, they have evolved well in the changing world across all the levels. In today’s world and for future there are skills which are inscribed through tough education and pressing experience, including:

  • Professional qualifications with continuous development
  • Good communication level to translate numbers to common language
  • Knowledge and skills to use technology
  • Skills to connect with global compliance requirements
  • Commercial understanding to advise on critical business decisions
  • Approachable demeanour which facilitates cross function dealings

Alvin Tan: Finance professionals’ main strengths is that they have the insights of the well being of a Company financially. If anything, regardless if the “patterns” or behaviour of funds seems out of the “ordinary”, they should be able to spot it and highlight it for management to take note of before further deterioration.

What areas are there weaknesses or areas that are below the standard required now?

Alvin: Finance Professionals having a more “suspicious” and analytical mindset. At the same time, Management that are more willing to listen instead of having an attitude whereby finance folks don’t understand operations.

Hafiz: One of the weaknesses that I see is that finance professionals are still not venturing out to understand the business they are in. How many have sat down shadowing their operations or commercial colleagues for a short period to see how they perform their tasks; even simple ones such as creating a job file in a TMS? They need to be more confident and seek new knowledge beyond Finance.

Vikas: By very nature, finance function is given a minimum budgetary allocation for automation, upskilling and talent, hence their struggle to adapt to fast moving automation and missing the pace with changes.

Individually, a finance professional lack

  • Story-telling art (~ resolution-oriented articulation)
  • Desire to up-skill and ambition
  • Self-investment and networking

Rajat: For finance professionals, weaknesses are more from inherent attitude and the way they perform the work. But with the level they operate they can be regarded as either strength or weaknesses, like:

  • Too much focus on detail: Depending upon time and business requirement professionals need to be adoptable and apply judgement to avoid any compromise due to time criticalness.
  • Cannot say “No”: Finance being central function is expected to know everything in the business, but this is not always true. So we finance professionals need to ascertain our boundaries and learn to say articulate “No”.

How do you think the skills required by Finance professionals will change over the next 5 years?

Hafiz: Finance roles will continue to evolve in the next 5 years and they will be expected to be more involve in business partnering. This means they need to be an all-rounder in terms of finance knowledge, comfortable with data and presenting choice points to the management team.

Vikas: User skills evolve along with changing regulatory & work environment, tools to perform job and over period.

Finance professional need to possess & excel following skills with varying degree basis their industry and work-levels:

  • Cloud-tech & Automation
  • EQ & Collaboration
  • BCP and Plan B mind-set

Rajat: Over the next 5 years Finance professionals in addition to develop professionally we will have to focus on learning to work with new upcoming technologies.

So far technology has been considered as tools to use but it is moving fast to become a self-sufficient environment. Thus it is important that we train ourselves to:

  • To build the skills to use technology more efficiently
  • To gel in the technology environment and enhance the quality of output it generates

Alvin: Finance Professionals needs to be more analytical and learn the operations of their respective Company. Without a clear understanding of both, it will be difficult to safeguard the Company.

What is the most important thing you look for when you hire for your team?

Vikas: I select a resource while screening them from two lens essentially,

  • Lens of Past e. skills acquired in past, career path & projects (success and failure both), since failure define you more than a piece of success.
  • Lens of futuree. how ambitious a resource is in term of their career and personal goals. Along with possible fitment or outlier positioning in organisation. Some time I hire to complement the existing scheme of things, and some time hire to disrupt, but there is clear objective in view everytime.

Rajat: As traditional look out for any job “Attitude” is the most important thing needed in finance function. Now, in the new technology friendly environment one additional necessity is ability of an individual to adopt and learn the systems we currently use and will use in the future.

Alvin: The drive of the individual is more important than the experience. I always believe that nothing cannot be learnt. It is a matter if that person is willing to learn and how fast can that person learn.

Hafiz: Apart from knowledge, I look at the attitude of the individuals.

What advice would you have for somebody who wants to become a CFO or finance leader in future? What skills should they be working to develop?

Alvin: Finance knowledge you would have picked that up in school or through your daily work. Instead you should also be learning the operational side of the business.

Vikas: Being CFO or Finance leader require

  • Clear focus on business and a commitment to bring change to scale and evolve,
  • Relentless efforts to unlearn & relearn, and reclaim – a journey of continuous learning,
  • Peer-group and collaboration, and
  • A strong team to work internally, since it’s a teamwork.

Hafiz: My advice would be: Never stop learning and sometimes learning means to spend a couple years in your career exploring horizontally.

Rajat: Finance function is considered as lifeblood of business. It is the basic foundation of an organisation. It connects the periods, the resources, the people and the expectations. Thus, to succeed in finance function an individual should have:

  • Ability to build stories about the business to tell to various level of stakeholders.
  • Connect to technology to enhance the level of understanding on information required, generated and presented
  • Good quality team with excellent level of communication among themselves.

Read this next: These are the books CFOs recommend reading to boost your finance career

Vikas Ralhan is a CFO and Angel Investor based in India. He has 16+ years finance experience across various industries in MNCs and start ups.

Rajat Gupta is a senior business and finance executive based in Singapore. He has 15+ years experience in industries including oil & gas, shipping and technology with established companies and start ups.

Hafiz Roslan is a CFO based in Thailand and is Group CFO of FLS Projects. He has international experience across Asia and in Africa in the shipping and logistics industries.

Alvin Tan is a C-level executive and finance leader based in Singapore. He has experience in shipping, business consultancy and big 4 audit firms.

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