How Digital Transformation Has Changed the Role of Finance Professionals – for the Good
by Andy Watts, Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer at Brown & Brown Insurance
Twenty years ago, we wrote a check and mailed it when we paid a monthly statement. Jenny, the business’ accountant, received it and manually entered our payments into a spreadsheet — hopefully without mistakes.
Then, a decade ago, we realized we could shave off some time by automating or standardizing our monthly payments. This streamlined the writing and distributing of checks for the same amount each month. Internally, that saved Jenny a bit of time too.
Today, we’ve scheduled that distribution to be paid electronically — we have minimal manual touches, and Jenny’s team doesn’t touch it either. Our money is transferred directly into the proper account; both parties are notified that the payment was received, and the payment is electronically applied to our account.
Some reduce this story to a tale of technology replacing people. I disagree. At its essence, digital transformation for individuals, businesses and commerce at the global level is about the transition to higher-value work.
Removing repetitive or manual tasks from our daily schedules allows businesses to create new efficiencies and enable employees to focus on what really moves the needle. That’s why digital transformation has altered nearly every finance and accounting role in today’s world.
The evolution of the finance professional in the digital age
Now that Jenny’s accounting team doesn’t have to worry about manually tracking and applying monthly payments, which I would call “lower value-adding effort,” the focus of their work suddenly shifts to higher value-adding effort. Business analysis, strategy, operations, engagement with business partners and vendors (both internally and externally) and customer service are now core focus areas for finance teams — as they need to be in order to have the most significant impact on the business.
The ability to operate consistently at this higher level has changed. It will continue to change the personnel needs, hiring processes and talent that modern businesses seek to add to their team. More than just the technical requirements, finance professionals of the 2020s need to understand technology and how to leverage it because technology is now at the core of all we do.
As a result of this shift, we will see more technology and technologically-savvy team members impacting and benefiting the financial planning and analysis space. Organizations are looking to hire business analysts with a background in accounting or finance; technology majors with finance and accounting minors; or finance or accounting professionals with a business information systems or data and analytics background.
Current finance professionals that adapt to this new focus on technology, data and visualization will add significant value to their companies because organizations are hungry for the “edge” that will come from having incremental knowledge derived from data and analytics. It is mission critical that businesses know more about their customers, products and supply chains than ever before so they can determine what’s working, what’s not and what will ultimately drive the business forward and add the most value.
As finance and accounting professionals know, it takes decades to change processes in large complex organizations, retrain professionals and create radically different business protocols that will champion the utilization of technology, data and analytics. Therefore, reframing internal systems, processes, data collection, analytical and visualization capabilities to fully embrace a digital transformation is the first critical step to every business’ growth. The ability of finance and accounting professionals to extract meaningful information from these processes and treasure troves of data will help move today’s businesses into tomorrow’s industry-leading companies.
Wanted: Leaders at all levels of our organizations
The continued demand for leadership at all levels of organizations hasn’t changed with digital transformation. Regardless of how analytical and technical teams become, the profession needs individuals who can inspire, lead and develop others to rise to the top. The hunger for this skill set will never change.
In my conversations with students and organizations of all sizes, the quest for strong leaders continually emerges as a key theme. In good times as well as times of recession, world crisis or heavy periods of disruption, having highly engaged and dynamic leaders in the right seats allow organizations to drive innovation, remove friction, capture market share and ultimately fuel growth.
The world’s most successful organizations do this at the busy intersection of technology, business processes and people. I look forward to meeting you there.
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