CFOs Reveal Top Priorities for Future-Proofing Finance Teams

Workday’s latest CFO Indicator survey asked 267 CFOs around the globe about their plans and priorities for the next five years. Learn how those who were identified as “finance outperformers” are leading the way by investing in skills and technology for the future.

To find out what concerns are top of mind for the finance function, Workday’s latest CFO Indicator Survey—launched in 2015—asked 267 CFOs around the globe about their financial cloud maturity, their most in-demand skills, their ability to transform data into insights, and emerging technologies. 

We already know today’s CFOs are being asked by a diverse set of stakeholders to do far more than they were a generation ago, from environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to regulatory requirements and everything in between, not to mention the new reality of remote work.

Here’s what else we found.

A Global Perspective: Technology and Skills

A majority (57%) of CFOs are looking for technology skillsets in future hires that include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), according to our survey. Finance leaders are expected to serve as strategic business partners, using their real-time reporting and analysis acumen. Not surprisingly, a substantial portion (40%) of CFOs are looking for new hires skilled in data storytelling, AI, and ML.

A majority (58%) of CFOs rated their ability to transform data into insights as “excellent,” identifying them as “finance outperformers.”

The skills gap—the difference between what finance teams will need to compete and create organizational value and the skills they currently have—presents a challenge for enterprises. Yet it also offers an opportunity to rethink the role that finance plays and strengthen the importance of collaborating with IT and HR departments to keep companies competitive. Understanding how crucial it is to bridge the skills gap within finance teams, CFOs are investing in their people. 

Yet the multifaceted challenge of hiring people with the skills necessary now and into the future is even larger during an era of labor shortages prompted by the Great Resignation. More than ever, employee experience is paramount to building—and retaining—a skilled and agile finance team. 

What that means in practice is deploying user-friendly technology that provides finance professionals with intuitive, app-like interfaces that can reduce the complexity of the financial reporting process, as well as automating routine tasks. Consumer-like interfaces for finance employee tasks can also help CFOs attract and retain discerning tech-savvy people. Not surprisingly, nearly all (97%) CFOs who responded to the survey said technology was critical to attracting and retaining talent, and nearly half (48%) are actively looking to invest in such technology over the next five years.

Smart investments in technology include those in an “enterprise management cloud,” a term to describe the next generation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Moving to the cloud brings a variety of critical capabilities, including increased accessibility for remote workers, improved data visibility for stakeholders, and the elimination of silos to create a frictionless finance experience.

Meet the Finance Outperformers

While the trends we found from the survey’s respondents were valuable, the picture that emerges from those finance leaders with mature digital transformation efforts is worth considering as well. The key is data.

Among the CFOs who responded to the survey, a majority (58%) rated their ability to transform data into insights as “excellent,” identifying them as “finance outperformers.” The CFOs in this group greatly value data storytelling and have incorporated their enthusiasm for technology to leverage their teams’ abilities into a recruitment and retention strategy.

An overwhelming majority (70%) of finance outperformers said they plan to meet their future needs, at least in part, by training existing employees and helping grow their careers. The same percentage (70%) of respondents plan to rely on hiring, too.

Three other data points among this group of CFOs also stand out:

  • 78% plan to add data governance and management skills or talent in the next five years.
  • 71% want to continue investing in data science. By contrast, the 41% of CFOs who rated their data capabilities as “good” plan similar investments.
  • 57% are looking at environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments.

ESG and D&I: Continuing Focus 

There’s no shortage of organizational priorities for today’s CFOs. 

Talent and technology, with their many nuances, remain among the most important items vying for the attention of finance professionals. Yet diversity and inclusion (D&I) and ESG issues are still receiving high-level scrutiny, with more than half (57%) of all CFOs saying they’re a priority.

Naturally, it will become necessary for CFOs to have an accurate accounting of financial and non-financial data to understand ESG efforts and convey them to stakeholders, vendors, and regulators, not to mention providing the competitive advantage their organization can realize from ESG initiatives.

71% of finance outperformers plan to meet their future talent needs by training existing employees and helping grow their careers.

The value of ESG is reflected in the survey responses: CFOs at both large (21%) and medium enterprises (31%) identified it as an investment priority. More than half of respondents said they would add new ESG (55%) and D&I (54%) functions or capabilities in the next five years.

Building the Finance Team of the Future

CFOs intent on future-proofing their finance teams must understand the skills and technologies that organizations will require to remain agile, create value, and outpace the competition. Data analytics, AI, and ML will take center stage, with ESG and D&I playing supporting roles, as the finance function expands its influence to serve as a strategic partner in enabling a robust and resilient organization.

Bridging the skills gap amid a talent shortage will require that organizations look inward to develop their employees’ careers, a move that needs significant investment not only in people but in the technology to attract and retain tomorrow’s finance leaders. 

Read our latest CFO Indicator survey report, “The CFO’s Guide to Building a Future-Proof Finance Team.”

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