Three developments have combined to accelerate the transformation of the finance function, according to a new survey of North American CFOs by Deloitte.
Technology tools are continuing to evolve. Finance professionals are being asked to learn new skills, often related to such technology. And work is morphing into more project-oriented opportunities.
One result for finance chiefs is the ability to manage large amounts of data and turn those data into insight for the business, said Sandy Cockrell, CPA, managing partner for Deloitte's CFO program.
"The tools that are available are dramatically advanced from where they were just two or three years ago," he said. "The ability to implement artificial intelligence and robotics — those things are overwhelming in some ways to CFOs. In fact, they are having to reeducate themselves on the capabilities of what's out there."
Previously, many in the finance function were trained to look backward instead of forward, according to Cockrell. But automation is reducing the need for constant human scanning of historical data, allowing employees more time to focus on forecasting and analysis.
"There's a necessity to retool part of the workforce and have people driving a car that doesn't have a rear-view mirror," he said.
This shift is apparent in CFOs' expectations regarding the responsibilities of the finance function: 63% project that the "time allocation of the finance workforce in three years will shift toward analysis, prediction, and decision support," according to Deloitte's CFO Signals Report for the third quarter.
The top three skills that CFOs — mainly from companies with annual revenue of more than $1 billion — listed for helping to develop finance departments were analytical skills, expertise in digital technologies and automation, and core business skills.
But when those skills aren't developed fast enough, outside workers may be needed for specialized tasks. That's the third development, illustrated by CFOs projecting that the portion of outsourced, contingent, contract, or gig workers in their finance workforce will nearly double from 8.3% to 15.6%.