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Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

Are You Ready for Digital Disruption? The Surprising Survey Results

Guest Author

By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A

There is plenty of research assessing how ready finance departments are for digital transformation, but are you ready for your digital future? The Association for Finance Professionals (AFP) last year asked this question to more than 900 finance and treasury professionals. The 2018 survey, “Your Personal Digital Readiness,” found some surprising results.

First, the survey defined digital readiness as openness to learn about and apply leading technology and data trends. This openness required the skillsets of digital literacy—the ability to derive meaningful information from data, including compilation and analysis—and digital transformation—changing processes, systems and competencies to leverage digital technologies.

And now the results:

Fifty percent of respondents are significantly or somewhat concerned about becoming obsolete if they cannot keep up with digital transformation. This finding echoes new research from the Association of International Certified Finance Professionals (the Association), the global organization formed by members of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), and Oracle. Their study found that only 10 percent of finance leaders believe their teams have the skills needed to move the business forward in a digital age.

While this may sound daunting, we also learned several tactical actions that individuals can take to make themselves digitally ready.

  • Be digital leaders in your home life. Digital readiness is a habit and being open to it in one environment helps to prepare you in another. Fully 77 percent of those who self-assessed as digital leading-edge adopters or fast followers at home assessed themselves the same in the office.
  • Be expert on your existing tools. Even if these tools may become obsolete, the habit of becoming an expert and relying on tools is healthy.
  • Create a plan to keep learning. It is important to keep this issue in front of us, and continuous education is the new normal; 61 percent of all respondents and 69 percent of digital leaders have either a detailed or rough plan to increase their digital readiness. Fifty-nine percent of respondents who thought they were already digital leaders believe they need to acquire additional technological skills.
  • Be self-motivated. Don’t rely on your company to manage your career. You may be moving faster than your company, thinking further ahead, and have a greater focus on your personal growth than your company. Three quarters of all respondents say they are responsible for their own digital readiness or share that jointly with their employer; only 22 percent put the onus on their employer alone.
  • Find other ways to up-skill.
    • Join an IT project at your company, especially if it is cross-functional. “Putting our new planning system into place pushed us ahead,” one finance professional recently told me. The process of discovering software capabilities, the effort required to implement, and education of using the new system helped to develop data literacy during the process of deploying a sophisticated tool. 
    • Engage with consultants to learn what is available in the market.
    • Study independently through reading, courses, etc.

The survey also found that three quarters of employers are helping their teams become more digitally ready. These respondents:

  • Cover a portion of employee educational costs (49 percent)
  • Develop a culture of investing in employees (28 percent)
  • Provide time for education during the working day (22 percent)
  • Assist in developing a growth plan, such as mapping current skills to future requirements (12 percent)

Several common write-in responses included creating opportunities with projects that take employees beyond the routine functions of the department, sending employees to conferences, and holding brown bag lunches to share learnings.

Senior Leadership Sees Talent Differently

Surprisingly, finance and treasury professionals generally felt confident in their current skills. For example, 64 percent self-assessed as excellent/above average data literacy, 62 percent as excellent/above average in technology and data management, and among leaders, 51 percent are significantly prepared or prepared to manage the accelerating change in technology and data. This contrasts sharply with the views of senior finance leadership from the Association and Oracle research, indicating a significant gap between how employees assess themselves, and how senior leaders assess their employees.

AFP explored the source of this confidence gap. Ram Balasubramaniam, a member of the AFP FP&A test writing committee, summed up the general opinion: “Many people are comfortable doing their day-to-day jobs and think they are doing well, but are not fully aware of the technological options available. They think we know the depths of our tools when in reality we are only using a small percentage.”

AFP’s FP&A Advisory Council considers this excessive confidence to be a potential danger to organizations. If finance self-assesses as being on the leading edge of digital today, they may be less willing to see a need for change as waves of innovation on the horizon draw closer. That leaves the function and individuals behind our corporate colleagues, marginalized in strategic decisions, and less effective in our roles as stewards of capital.

Yet there is also real optimism among those who are on the forefront of digital tools. Chris Ortega, Director of Finance for Emarsys, says, “I think we're entering a transformative period for technology inside of our business. Artificial intelligence, predictive technology, and digital readiness for accounting and finance is meant to move us away from low value activity, to really put us in the high value activity.”

If finance is not forward-looking digitally, then who will be?

For more information on this topic, take a deeper dive into Your Personal Digital Readiness, including the survey results and a replay of an expert-panel webinar.

Bryan Lapidus has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate FP&A and treasury space working at Fortune 200 and private equity-owned companies. At AFP he is the staff subject matter expert on FP&A, which includes designing content to meet the needs of the profession and helping keep members current on developing topics. Bryan also manages the FP&A Advisory Council that acts as a voice to align AFP with the needs of the profession.

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