The Impact of Automation on Finance and the New Skills You Will Need

HK customers are receptive to the introduction of AI and machine learning in banking services (Image PhonlamaiPhoto / iStockPhoto)

A 2017 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that, by 2055, half of today’s work activities could be automated. And this could happen even sooner depending on a range of factors, including economic conditions.

It may paint a very Orwellian picture of the future, but recent research by global recruitment firm Robert Half offers a more positive view of how digital transformation is set to impact the finance industry and financial management.

Research by Robert Half finds that workplace automation is not about destroying jobs. Rather, it’s a matter of adapting to change. Nonetheless, the challenge for finance industry leaders across the Asia-Pacific is to know how roles will evolve, which skills will be in demand, and to understand how to attract and retain those professionals who possess the skills needed to add value in a digital world.

While some positions will ultimately be rendered obsolete by technology, the news is not all bad. Over 80 per cent of Australian finance leaders also believe that automation will bring new opportunities

Automation, IT and soft skills

A striking takeout from Robert Half’s 2018 Salary Guides is that finance and accounting is not immune to the disruptive power of automation and digitization. As a guide, nine out of ten Australian CFOs say the task of data collection is already automated or is likely to be disrupted in the next three years. Other functions that are key contenders for automation include invoicing, financial report generation, data entry, and credit management.

While some positions will ultimately be rendered obsolete by technology, the news is not all bad. Over 80 per cent of Australian finance leaders also believe that automation will bring new opportunities, especially for those professionals who can reshape their skillsets to focus on added-value activities. This sentiment is shared in Asia, where in Hong Kong, 90 per cent of CFOs say they are confident in upskilling their team for the skills required in the future.

Inevitably, though, formal qualifications alone will no longer be enough. In a digitally-driven workplace, the in-demand talent will have a strong command of analytics, be able to learn quickly, adopt new technologies, and have the commercial acumen to drive a business forward.

IT skills will also be highly prized. According to Andrew Brushfield, Director at Robert Half Australia, “the increased focus on technological solutions requires professionals with the right IT skills to leverage new financial systems.” Specifically, Brushfield points to the need for skills in predictive analytics, accounts payable automation, SAP accounting software, and enterprise planning software.

Automation is having an impact on soft skills, too. In Singapore, 71 per cent of CFOs attribute an increased collaboration in their team dynamics as a result of automation, followed by increased communication (68 per cent), and team innovation (61 per cent).

The skills transition brought about by automation means finance professionals with the right skills are likely to enjoy greater leverage when it comes to salary negotiations

Staff retention also brings challenges

One of the primary challenges of automation is finding talent with the necessary skills to manage the development and implementation of digitization in their organization. In Australia, 99 per cent of finance leaders admit it is challenging to source qualified finance professionals. Hong Kong (96 per cent) and Singapore (100 per cent) experience similar difficulties.

This is especially the case when it comes to recruiting candidates with skills in financial planning and analysis, cost accounting and financial/management reporting.

A competitive recruitment market isn’t the only issue finance leaders must contend with. As manual tasks are steadily automated, companies must place a high priority on retaining staff members with sought-after skills.

This highlights the need for businesses for business across the Asia-Pacific to have effective staff retention strategies, including taking a proactive approach to addressing the underlying causes of staff turnover. Failure to do so can bring the risk of financial setback, the loss of valuable company knowledge, productivity and even the loss of customers, if top performers move on.

Attract and retain skilled talent

In today’s climate of slow wage growth, a competitive salary is crucial for attracting and retaining high quality talent. The skills transition brought about by automation means finance professionals with the right skills are likely to enjoy greater leverage when it comes to salary negotiations. Already, a growing number of employers are rewarding their top performers with a pay increase.

That said, financial benefits aren’t always the prime motivator for jobseekers. This is especially true for new graduates, for whom the chance to work for an innovative company providing professional development and interesting and varied work is also a key incentive.

Brushfield sums up the situation: “In order to attract the workforce of the future, companies need to diversify their remuneration offerings to focus on more than just salary. This can mean embracing tailored talent management programs and workplace flexibility.”

The time to start preparing for the future is today. For an in-depth look at how your company can secure and retain high caliber finance candidates, and to understand current market salary ranges by role and location, download your local salary guide: Robert Half Salary Guide 2018 Australia, Robert Half Salary Guide 2018 Hong Kong, and Robert Half Salary Guide 2018 Singapore.

 

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