Finance staffing levels stable despite automation

Even as technology automates many traditional finance functions, companies need employees who can effectively translate, present, and strategically analyse data, according to a new survey. That need is helping maintain or expand current staffing levels and driving expansion plans at finance departments.

About half of US and Canadian executives plan to maintain current staffing levels. Meanwhile, 17% of US executives and 22% of Canadian executives reported plans to expand their accounting and finance teams due to digital transformation initiatives, according to Benchmarking Accounting and Finance Functions, a report by global staffing firm Robert Half and the Financial Executives Research Foundation. The report pulled from a survey of more than 1,700 finance leaders from companies of all sizes in the US and Canada.

"Digital transformation is creating change for business," said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half and a co-author of the report. "To keep up with that transformation, they need intellectual capital, so they are seeking to maintain their current staffs or to find new talent."

Ever larger amounts of customer, employee, and customer data are also driving a need for employees with a more strategic mindset and a more holistic business acumen, according to McDonald. The survey found that 35% of large and 26% of smaller firms don't plan on automating financial decision-making.

"We're seeing staff senior accountants with financial analytical abilities are truly in demand to interpret the data in addition to analysing it," McDonald said.

The survey also found that financial professionals now, more than ever, need to expand their skills, particularly soft skills that historically have been limited to the managerial level, such as communication, presentation, and teamwork. But finance executives are now looking across the workforce to develop them.

"Soft skills continue to be the differential between people auditioning for jobs and people getting jobs," McDonald said.

Companies are looking to use technology to enable a focus on execution and increase employees' output, according to the survey. But the onus is ultimately on employees to expand their versatility, McDonald said.

"Always be a learner," he said. "It's never too late to throw yourself into uncomfortable situations and make yourself available."

Drew Adamek (Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com) is an FM magazine senior editor.