Workday recently released its global “Finance Redefined” study, 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.
Based on our research findings, we identified four priorities globally that continue to have a significant impact on the future of finance and its ability to support business needs: resilience, intelligence, leadership, and talent. In this article, we focus on the responses of CFOs from France, Germany, and the UK and how their attitudes mirror or contrast those of their counterparts in other parts of the world.
Mirroring the global results, finance leaders in Germany, France, and the UK cited growing regulatory scrutiny, followed by the pace of technological change/digital disruption as their top two concerns. In France and the UK, cybersecurity risk also ranked high, while German leaders are also worried about political risk and uncertainty. According to the study, the concerns of German CFOs could reflect concerns over the long-term leadership of the country as Angela Merkel enters her fourth, and potentially final term, as chancellor.
In terms of what stands in the way of improving the management of risk, there was a clear message that the major challenges involved systems and data:
- In Germany and the UK, the number one barrier was that finance leaders felt they lacked the systems and technology to simplify the audit process.
- In France, CFOs were primarily concerned that their organisation lacked the data and information to uncover risks.
In terms of current usage of advanced data analytics in Europe, there is work to do for CFOs in all three countries. When we asked respondents if they were making extensive use of advanced analytics for planning, budgeting and forecasting, less than half of UK and German CFOs said they were (both 43 percent), though that climbed to half of the respondents in France. This does, however, exceed the global average, where just 39 percent of finance leaders are using analytics extensively in this area.
Many finance teams are still working with disparate systems and spending significant time aggregating and reconciling data instead of analyzing it.
In terms of extensive use of advanced analytics for financial reporting, the picture is mixed. France at 54 percent and Germany at 50 percent significantly exceed the global average of 40 percent. However, the UK—at 38 percent—is lagging.
What’s holding finance leaders back? Global respondents reported that their biggest challenge is integrating finance and non-finance data, closely followed by system inefficiency. There was a clear distinction between Europe and North America here. UK and German CFOs cite concerns over data privacy as a major barrier preventing the development of data-driven business insights. In the U.S., this was a much lower-order concern.
Non-financial information is often unstructured or semi-structured compared to financial information, which means that non-financial data often requires more work to make it usable. On top of facing data transformation challenges, many finance teams are still working with disparate systems and spending significant time aggregating and reconciling data instead of analyzing it.
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: Globally, only about one-third of finance leaders say that they have seamless collaboration with key C-suite peers.
In a world where the pace of change continues to accelerate, the relationship between CFOs and CIOs would seem especially critical for digital innovation. We found that 75 percent or more of CFOs in France, Germany, and the UK say that CFOs and CIOs need to collaborate to drive technology innovation in their organizations.
However, significant challenges stand in the way. We found that worldwide, 65 percent of finance leaders say that effective collaboration between CIOs and CFOs is limited by the fact that IT and finance don’t employ the same terminology and jargon. Or, in the parlance of our times, “speak the same language.” This language/terminology problem is considered a significant issue in France (65 percent) and Germany (66 percent). While it is less of an issue in the UK, our research still found that over half (52 percent) of respondents consider it a major barrier.
In Europe, existing priorities, such as meeting changes in accounting standards or compliance—as well as a lack of people or skills—are preventing improved performance and innovation in finance. In addition, in France, budget constraints are stunting transformation.
While new technologies and the proliferation of data offer 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 innovation and performance improvement.
In Europe, finance leaders highlighted several areas of expertise that will be critical to the finance function of the future. In Europe, the most in-demand are data scientists, followed by statisticians and data security professionals. These roles will be especially important in enabling finance to produce sophisticated, predictive analytics for their organisations.
Finance leaders are addressing these gaps through training and development that builds digital and advanced analytics skills.
Finding these skills is a key concern for finance leaders. Over three-quarters (79 percent) of French finance leaders say they “face tough competition to recruit the best analytics and digital talent.” It is also a significant issue in Germany (71 percent) and the UK (69 percent).
Finance leaders say they are addressing these gaps in their current team through training and development that builds digital and advanced analytics skills. In terms of areas of focus and development, France and Germany CFOs were centered on how they could maximise the use of existing systems, while the UK differed from European and global respondents by prioritising online and mobile learning programmes (54 percent).
For more on these findings and the full survey results, read the “Finance Redefined” study.