The finance department of the future – what changes are on the horizon?

The finance department of the future – what changes are on the horizon?

Mon 05 Oct 2020

Revolutions are underway at all organisations – and the finance department is no exception. Whole articles are devoted to them in the press: artificial intelligence, robots and machine learning are obvious ones, but this also includes concepts such as ‘working differently’ and ‘freedom-form companies’. A few years ago, it seemed that a technological revolution such as the one created by the introduction of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems in the 1990s would not occur again for a while. Well, things turned out differently! Technology is once again going to require us to re-evaluate processes, tools and team roles. Along with these technological advances comes changes in management methods and work relationships. This is what you need to know.

More than just transformation – a revolution is underway!

Everything is changing at once: new technological capabilities, new solutions, new ways of working and new rules. A summary of the major technological, managerial and organisational solutions that digital transformation has brought would be a picture in constant motion. Behind each part are technological solutions, experiments being carried out, projects and new ways of organising work.

Source: Mazars

Painting this picture means including solutions for different needs:

  1. Digitisation of incoming and outgoing documents (paper-to-digital flow transformation).
  2. Robotisation (automating manual tasks).
  3. Smart reporting tools.

There is also a need for chatbot assistants for customer and supplier relations at customer collection centres and customer shared services centres. These solutions also support the new concept of on-demand services and the new models are increasingly supported in organisations in service contracts between customers and internal suppliers. The finance department must also consider these new services as it begins its transformation.

Robots are coming – and the need for greater human intelligence too.

Any kind of progress can be seen as a threat or an opportunity – it depends on how you look at it. We think that automating production tools restores the central role of human intelligence. What do robots allow? Reconciliation tasks, still very much a part of accounting processes (such as reconciling files) can now be taken over by robots.

This would allow staff members to spend more time on tasks involving detailed analysis, quality assurance work, getting creative with indicators, meeting with sales representatives, managers, or factory teams. Thanks to this transformation in finance functions made possible by robots, employees will be able to concentrate on analysing figures instead of producing them.

Some jobs will disappear while others, requiring greater expertise, will be created.

We’ll see the emergence of new jobs in accounting departments such as data flow and data integrity quality managers, who have to understand data flow between robots and guarantee their reliability. The time that will be freed up by the drastic reduction of inspection and reporting tasks will pave the way for the emergence of true business partners, business analysts and business intelligence managers. These job profiles will require that our current accounting controllers develop their skills. The job title may be unchanged, but the job content will be significantly improved – thanks to robots.

By creating these two jobs, we can see that skills related to understanding digital workflow and data analytics concepts will be key in accounting and management control teams, creating a convergence in the skills required of IT teams and finance department teams.

Jobs with accounting and management expertise will regain their status by focusing on complex standards and rules; the work of interpreting the latter will result in the creation of in-house experts with specialised financial knowledge. Of course, internal auditing and internal control will continue to exist given the new rules, risks (such as cybersecurity, fraud) and regulations (such as the GDPR).

What do you need to do first?

You need to address these issues and solutions either by monitoring or by implementing experiments or projects. You have to take the time to understand these markets, meet with customers and peers, try it out and digest the information.

To succeed, you have to work hand-in-hand with the IT department, who will contribute its technical expertise and help you choose the right solutions (which may be more or less intrusive in your existing ERPs). IT will possibly be responsible for integrating this in its centres of excellence. You will also have to plot out your employees’ futures with the HR teams. These futures are unknown, so you will have to have open communication, recruit slightly different profiles, take some risks, look through your teams for those with more digital and expert profiles, and help the rest of your employees develop.

Lastly, you have to put things into perspective and find the truth within the communication and marketing talk about robots and artificial intelligence. Then you have to demystify, explain, try out, find the value, develop teams and create meaning. Then design the new roles, new jobs, new ways of organising work in your finance department. After shared services centres in low-cost countries, isn’t it time to think differently and talk about virtual shared services centres?