Global Finance Leader Study: Four Priorities Defining the Future of Finance

This week, Workday released its global “Finance Redefined: Workday Global Finance Leader Survey,” conducted by Longitude, which surveyed more than 670 finance leaders across the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and South Africa to get their perspectives on the future of the finance function and finance leadership.

Once considered a numbers-only role, the CFO must now balance traditional responsibilities with growing demand for data-driven analysis and insights to help manage risks, spot new opportunities, and weather economic shocks and volatility. The ability of finance to deliver quality insights quickly and to the right people creates great strategic advantages for an organization.

In our survey, we set out to understand the challenges and opportunities facing finance leaders as they look into the future, and their confidence in being able to deliver data and insights across their organizations.

Based on our research findings, we identified four priorities that continue to have a significant impact on the future of finance and its ability to support business needs: resilience, intelligence, leadership, and talent. Here is an overview of our top findings in each of these areas:

Resilience

In today’s volatile business environment, finance leaders are managing risks across multiple fronts. The ability to be resilient in the face of constant change is critical. What are the top risks keeping them up at night? Growing regulatory scrutiny was cited by most respondents as the number one risk, followed by the pace of technology change/digital disruption in second place, and political risk and uncertainty in third.

A lack of meaningful data is the main barrier that stands in the way of improving risk management.

Though these issues are top of mind for finance leaders, only 39 percent are completely confident about their ability to manage their top risks. Respondents cite a lack of meaningful data as the main barrier that stands in the way of improving risk management, underscoring the challenge presented by data still trapped in legacy systems and organizational silos. These barriers make it difficult to access and build the data models and predictive capabilities that can support risk management.

Intelligence

While advanced data and analytics can provide powerful insights that can help drive growth and strategy, many finance teams aren’t making extensive use of them. According to the survey, only 35 percent are making extensive use of advanced analytics in key finance areas such as planning, budgeting, and forecasting, and do not see this increasing significantly in three years’ time.

The divide between next-generation finance executives and traditionalists reveals a corresponding difference between how they think about data and analytics.

What is holding finance leaders back? Respondents reported that their biggest challenge is integrating finance and non-finance data, closely followed by system inefficiency. Non-financial information is often unstructured or semi-structured compared to financial information, requiring significant transformation to use. At the same time, many finance teams are still working with disparate systems and spending significant time aggregating and reconciling data versus analysis.

Our research also shows a significant divide between next-generation finance executives (those who are 39 years old or younger, and who have significant business experience outside of finance) and traditionalists (who are 50 years old or over, and who have spent the majority of their careers in the finance function), revealing a corresponding difference between how they think about data and analytics. The next generation ranks “an organizational culture that is focused on intuition rather than data-based decision-making” the number one challenge standing in the way of their organization’s analytics ambitions, indicating how important company culture is when it comes to supporting digital innovation. For traditionalists, it is the eighth and lowest-ranked challenge.

Leadership

As CEOs look to finance leaders to drive data-driven decision making across their organizations, collaboration across the C-suite will be key. Survey results highlight a divide in this area, with only about one-third of finance leaders saying that they have seamless collaboration with key C-suite peers.

The relationship between CFOs and CIOs is especially critical to driving the digital innovation that will enable the delivery of these insights. Yet, while 74 percent of respondents say that CFOs and CIOs need to collaborate to drive technology innovation in their organizations, significant challenges stand in the way.

According to the survey, 68 percent of finance leaders say that effective collaboration between CIOs and CFOs is limited by the fact that IT and finance don’t speak the same language—meaning terminology and jargon specific to a particular functional domain—while 66 percent say that IT executives are reluctant to collaborate with their finance peers.

Talent

While new technologies and the proliferation of data offer finance opportunities to boost efficiency and obtain deeper insights, survey results show that finance leaders are challenged with finding the skills and talent to leverage them effectively. In the survey, respondents across both large and medium enterprises reported that a lack of relevant skills within the finance function as the number one barrier to finance innovation and performance improvement.

Finance leaders highlighted several areas of expertise that will be critical to the finance function of the future, headed up by data scientists and followed by statisticians and data security professionals. These roles will be especially important in enabling finance to produce sophisticated, predictive analytics for their organizations.

Finding these skills is a key concern for finance leaders, with a significant majority (71 percent) saying that they “face tough competition to recruit the best analytics and digital talent.” Finance leaders will look to address skills gaps in the current team through training and development that builds digital and advanced analytics skills. This is considered more important than supporting team members in achieving accounting qualifications, which is ranked fourth.

For the full research findings behind the “Finance Redefined” global study, read the report here.

About the “Finance Redefined: Workday Global Finance Leader Survey”
We surveyed more than 670 finance leaders across the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and South Africa covering 10 main sectors from September 2017 to January 2018. Over one-third (38 percent) came from large organizations with more than $1 billion annual revenues, with 35 percent between $500 million and $1 billion, and 27 percent between $250 million and $500 million. Over one-third of respondents were CFOs, finance directors, or chief accounting officers/controllers, and the remaining were drawn from senior finance roles, such as head of financial planning and analysis or vice president of financial operations.