Top-Performing CFOs Are Worried about Finding the Right Talent and Technology as Finance Jobs Evolve, Surveys Show

The mind of a CFO can be tough to crack, but recent surveys tell us these executives are focused on two major initiatives in 2022 – arming their finance operations with the right technology to do the job and developing and retaining the right talent to make the tech work for their business.

It comes as no surprise that the survey results echo the sentiments of AvidXchange’s CFO panel from our recent REVx event.

In the panel discussion titled “Future Proofing the Office of the CFO,” six finance executives and senior decision-makers focused on four themes:

  • -difficulties finding talent
  • -the shift to more strategic work
  • -use of data to grow their businesses and
  • -tapping technology to drive efficiencies

 

The experts spoke passionately about how important these themes have become in their daily working lives.

Here’s a recap of their key insights paired with new survey data:

‘Talent/labor continues to be CFOs’ leading internal risk’

According to Deloitte’s “CFO Signals” report conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021, “talent/labor continues to be CFOs’ leading internal risk, especially with respect to hiring, retention, attrition, burnout, employee well-being, and development.”

With that in mind, 60.7% of CFOs included in the Deloitte survey named talent/labor as one of their top three priorities for 2022. That outpaced financial performance, growth, strategy and cost management.

What are your top three priorities as CFO for 2022?

Talent/labor
60.7%
Financial performance
42.7%
Growth
31.6%
Strategy setting
28.2%
Cost management
21.4%

A separate CFO survey conducted by Duke University and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta spoke to the same issue as labor quality/availability was the top response for “most pressing concern” in 2022 – more than inflation and supply chain issues.

The message was apparent during our REVx panel: Businesses are struggling to find qualified finance professionals.

“It’s nearly impossible to find employees,” said Roman Telerman, CFO with MRI Software.

Padmini Shashtry, the controller for Vitane Pharmaceuticals, added: “It’s getting harder to find skilled people who are qualified to do the work that needs to be done. And it’s very hard to retain them.”

A survey of 800 finance executives sponsored by SAP shows CFOs are ready to step up and help solve this issue as 49% want more involvement in employee retention strategies, and 48% want a greater role in talent acquisition strategies.

The role of remote work on finance jobs

One of the factors to consider in talent acquisition for finance jobs is whether a candidate wants to work from home, said Chris Rosbrooks, CFO with Ekos. Executives have to decide if that’s the best set up for the specific employee as well as the needs of the business.

Sameer Mittal, a managing partner with FlexEquity LLC, said a challenge when hiring new professionals is making sure that if they’re working from home, they’re actually getting work done. It’s key to set up a system to measure that, he said.

According to Deloitte, 88% of CFOs said their organizations will use a hybrid work model.

‘92% of CFOs expect to embed more technologies and automation into their operations’

Rosbrooks with Ekos said his company uses technologies to produce more with the same amount of finance jobs, to engage with teammates and enhance cohesiveness across finance jobs.

Technology can also be used as a recruiting tool for new talent, according to a Workday’s CFO Indicator survey that found:

“Nearly half of CFOs (48%) plan to invest in consumer-like interfaces for finance tasks to attract future finance talent within the next five years. This technology, including that which automates accounting, reporting, and financial planning and analysis (FP&A) processes, streamlines workflow and gives employees the ability to focus on strategic tasks and helps boost productivity. Of the CFOs prioritizing this, a striking 99% agree that technology updates will become even more important for both attracting and retaining employees.”

Workday, CFO Indicator Survey

Not only do CFOs see technology transforming their departments over the next several years, they believe even 40% of the CFO role will be automated in the next 5-10 years, according to SAP.

The CFOs surveyed by SAP also suggested 42% of finance activities can be fully automated using currently available technology, while 57% of senior finance executives want to to use the time saved by automation to better train their finance department in advanced financial and technical skills.

Which brings us to our next point …

Finance jobs are expected to be more strategic than ever

Panelists at our REVx event spoke about how their roles and responsibilities and those of other finance jobs have recently expanded. Before, they focused mainly on ensuring financial numbers got reported accurately and on time, now they’re being called on to provide more strategic analysis, insights and recommendations to business leaders.

“Strategy is a much bigger part of the job,” said Rosbrooks with Ekos. “Yes, finance and accounting are important and it’s good to have numbers. But it builds from there. The big change is what strategic decisions will accounting make based on those numbers.”

Eleni Saunders, CFO of Charlotte Center City Partners, said her job had previously been “all about the numbers.” But now she’s more involved in operations and human resources and has much different priorities.

Our panel and SAP’s survey reflect the desires of top-performing CFOs to collaborate further with different business functions. Meanwhile, Workday’s CFO survey shows executives expect more strategic value and advanced technical skills from every finance job in their department.

“When searching for new hires, 57% of CFOs are prioritizing people who are familiar with leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) andmachine learning (ML) technologies,” Workday said. “This not only reflects the need for AI/ML talent, but also organizational efforts to remove tedious, time-consuming tasks.”

What are the two top skills you are prioritizing to hire for now that you weren’t hiring for five years ago?

Familiarity with business technology, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML) technologies
57%
Analytics/data storytelling
41%
Strategic problem solving
28%
Strategic partnering, executive influence
28%
Cross-functional collaboration and influence
27%

Finance professionals would welcome a shift from repetitive, mundane work to more strategic roles. A separate Deloitte survey in 2021 asked controllers how they split their time between functions and how they would prefer to split their time.

Respondents said they currently spend just 31% of their time as either a strategist or a catalyst that helps drive the execution of strategy. The same group said they’d like that number to be closer to 51% of their time by reducing the amount of time spent in traditional tasks as a steward or operator.

Workday’s survey show CFOs have heard these desires as 35% are looking to leverage automation to remove tedious, time-consuming work from employees’ plates.

What kinds of technology are you actively investing in today to attract your future finance team?

Consumer-like interfaces for finance employee tasks
48%
Automating tedious, time-consuming jobs
35%
Data storytelling and insights delivery
12%
Cross-functional and board reporting/communication
5%

‘The finance function is accelerating a shift, with a focus on data’

“We see the value of using customer data,” said Rosbrooks. “We have a lot of customer data today and the question is how to leverage it.”

Telerman with MRI Software agreed that the growing use of data will be a “massive” trend for those in finance jobs over the next few years.

“The finance function is accelerating a shift that was already under way, with a focus on data—in terms of collection, access, and analysis—to provide even greater value to the business,” Workday said. “Data management and analysis are 49% of CFOs’ top priorities over the next 3 years.”

The renewed, intense focus on data is an effort to make businesses more “decision-ready” and prepared to make moves at the appropriate time. CFOs are investing heavily in technology to bridge data gaps and develop a “single source of truth” across their businesses. Among the most popular technologies cited by the Workday survey were artificial intelligence and machine-learning based solutions.

How do you plan to invest to address your top priorities for the next 1–3 years?

Investing in AI and machine-learning-based solutions
33%
Reimagining finance operations in the cloud
27%
Investing in robotic process automation (RPA)
16%
Investing in process reengineering and optimization
15%
Analytics and business intelligence technologies
9%

CFOs are looking to their workforce to adapt along with the landscape and become more data-savvy, as 71% of the Workday respondents hope to “close the gap on any new functions or capabilities they need to add through upskilling as they look to future-proof their teams.”

The push for upskilling those in finance jobs is especially strong for finance outperformers, defined as CFOs who rated their ability to transform data into insights as “excellent.”

Seventy percent of outperformers view upskilling as a way to close function and capability gaps compared to 44% of underperformers.

When you think about new functions or capabilities you need to add, where are you planning to close the gap?

Finance outperformersFinance underperformers
Technology investments72%63%
Hiring70%52%
Upskilling70%44%
Outsourcing47%41%

Final thoughts

Our CFO panel and the survey results highlighted in this story shared this consistent message: they need to change rapidly how they do their jobs and lead their teams.

They’re being asked to do a lot more than they used to. They’re now expected to be high-level strategists, operations leaders and are counted on for insights and recommendations to grow the business.

They’re no longer only expected to get the numbers right and deliver them on time. They’re now being called upon to communicate what those numbers mean and how the business needs to change or adjust to steer towards faster growth.

And a big part of that is deciding what technologies to invest in, and what competitively differentiating benefits those investments will deliver.

These expectations trickle down, as well, as finance pros will be called upon to adapt, upskill and deliver on the vision for their finance department.

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