Digitisation has become an inherent part of the finance function with many areas being automated through digital transformation.

While workplace automation is often thought of as a negative and synonymous with job losses for many people, it can do exactly the opposite.

Rather than eliminating jobs, automation is about adapting to change. In turn, this provides new opportunities for employees as they shift their focus to added-value activities for their organisation.

We conducted independent global research and found that the most common areas to be automated in finance are data collection (47%), invoicing (38%) and data entry (34%). By 2020, digitisation is expected to progress to financial modelling (41%), predictive reporting (40%) and documentation storage and compliance (39%). Automation is here to stay and as more advanced technology enters finance and automates traditional tasks, companies as well as employees will need to adapt.

The business advantages of digital transformation are well-known. Globally, it is impacting companies by optimising task execution, increasing output and productivity, leading to better business results.

But what is often overlooked is how digital transformation will serve employees. We found that 87% of finance leaders globally agree that the increased reliance on technology and digital processes will have a positive impact on finance teams. When questioned about the actual impact, the top three benefits were seen as increasing the output of individuals employees (61%), enabling employees to re-focus on the execution of tasks and less on manual data input (56%), followed by allowing staff to learn new capabilities (52%) more quickly.

By far, the most prominent change related to workplace automation will be seen in the impact on day-to-day jobs. Digital transformation is supporting the learning of new skills and competencies and, overall elevating the roles of employees. Finance professionals will get the opportunity to develop additional skills as they adapt to change, thereby increasing their overall market value.

Unsurprisingly, the digital transformation journey has received the backing of senior financial management teams with 78% agreeing with the necessity of the process.

Increased automation in the workplace is there to support employees rather than inhibit. The majority (74%) of CFOs across the globe agree that workplace automation does not imply a reduction in finance employees, but rather, it requires a shift in the necessary skills. We will certainly witness a decrease in data intensive, routine tasks but this shift in roles will allow employees to reskill and refocus on problem solving, strategic vision, communication and commercial acumen. Rather than eliminating jobs, the trade-off will add-value to the working day, re-creating more skilled work for the professionals in control.

Finance of the future

So, what is next in the journey to digital transformation?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s about creating an equal balance between technology and the people. While companies increasingly rely on technology, in the end, they need the right talent and skills to leverage its potential to achieve business success. Finance leaders across the world know this as many of them are expanding their teams to help implement digital transformation.

Globally, 30% of finance executives are adding new permanent positions and 22% are looking to use temporary or contract finance professionals to support the transition.

Driving this increase is the demand for staff with well-developed analytical skills that can interpret information and apply business acumen to support businesses in the lead up to full-fledged automation.

However, change does not go without challenges. In the move towards automation the biggest challenges for 2020 include meeting wider business expectations (34%), the pressure to improve performance (34%), and ever-increasing workloads (31%). The finance function will need to simultaneously broaden and deepen its role to manage new expectations from the business, indicating there is great opportunity for the finance function to re-define its role and to set the business up for future success.

Essentially, workplace automation of the finance function does not imply a reduction in employees. Automation should be viewed as the driver supporting new, compelling opportunities rather than sabotaging them. As a result, finance and accounting professionals will increasingly develop new skills that complement and leverage the functionality of automation. In the end, we’ll be left with a re-skilled workforce that can play an active role in business operations by bringing to the table, a more expansive and rich skillset.