Agility, creativity in demand for finance professionals

Top-notch accounting skills are a must to be considered for a position or promotion, but finance professionals wanting to set themselves apart need greater business knowledge and other expertise, according to thought leaders interviewed at a recent financial planning and analysis (FP&A) conference.

Accountants must be willing to learn not only new skills but new tools, they said.

Donny Shimamoto, CPA/CITP, CGMA, said finance professionals must exit the comfort zone of tracking transactions and learn how the business really operates. Then they’ll be able to apply forward-looking analysis and modelling techniques.
“As we look beyond finance and we want to start being able to really support these business units, we really need to start getting more leadership skills, more of the soft skills,” he said at the recent American Institute of CPAs FP&A conference.

Shimamoto said that finance professionals who master the tools of business intelligence can harness the power of data analytics and “start to evolve the (finance) role to be looking at the organisation as a whole and discussing how to best optimise the performance.”

Adaptability, creativity matter

Steve Player, CPA, CGMA, runs a consulting firm and also is North American programme director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table. He said his firm, The Player Group, wants “analytically inquisitive” workers who enjoy figuring out not only the answer to the question but also the process for finding the answer.

“You need the people that are engaged in trying to understand things at a systemic level, understanding how parts work together and understanding how policy and procedures drive the results of that,” Player said.

Additionally, Player said, finance professionals should be excellent communicators who are change-ready. “By that I mean very adaptable, able to operate in different environments,” he said. That’s why he’s excited about the next generation of workers – they have seen so much technological change in their lifetime.

Brett Knowles, executive partner of pm2 Consulting in Toronto, says finance professionals need to show more creativity and agility to be considered for high-level roles.

“We’ve been training CFOs so far to understand rules and live within the rules,” he said. “And what we’re learning is, those rules now, if they’re not automated, they’re easily supported at a more transactional or tactical level than (they) used to be. What we now need is a capability of people to be agile and creative in how they look at the data, and understand how systems and things work.”

The pursuit of knowledge shouldn’t stop and shouldn’t be limited to finance expertise only, said Bob Paladino, CPA, managing partner of Bob Paladino & Associates. Getting a degree beyond the accounting basics is one of three ways finance professionals can take the next step in their careers:

  • Paladino said a new hire in finance can create value immediately by understanding predictive analytics. Such knowledge is more than a planning tool; it gives a finance professional insight into what the data are saying, what kind of insight can be mined from the data and how a company can forecast better using leading indicators. “The problem with the traditional finance function is they rely on financial indicators, which by definition are a lagging indicator,” he said. “So the new person coming in would have kind of a tuning fork, you know, tuned into … the leading indicators or drivers of value so they can start to predict value that much more accurately.”
  • Finance professionals should spend time with different departments learning about the business. They will have a greater understanding of the drivers of the business, Paladino said, “having lived it – not studied it – but lived it.”
  • Paladino says a graduate degree in a non-finance topic provides a finance professional with more knowledge sets from which to draw. The outside learning can provide someone with the “intellectual horsepower to really help transform a company.”

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Four Steps to Identify Future CFO Talent”: Many companies still haven’t identified future CFO candidates, a survey by executive staffing firm Robert Half Management Resources suggests. To better prepare for succession, companies should follow four steps.

The Talent Drain: Good News for Skilled Workers, Bad News for CFOs”: A majority of CFOs in a survey consider it a challenge to find skilled finance professionals. As a result, companies are getting more competitive as they try to reel in top talent.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.