"Change is here, and there is no way to get around the fourth industrial revolution in finance," Kathryn Sherratt, CFO of Financial Services Compensation Scheme, began as she opened her presentation at the CFO Rising Europe Summit.
"This creates a problem we call the finance talent gap. So, what do we do now and what do we do in the future? How can we prepare for this disruption in terms of the skills that we may need?"
She adds "we've gone from being in positions that revolve around preparation, figures and excel spreadsheets - adding up on calculations in that typical "bean-counter" role - to becoming more of a strategic business partner."
The introduction of new technologies, especially AI and other forms of automation, promises to change to finance departments everywhere. "McKinsey say that robots will replace 800 million jobs by 2030," warns Sherratt. "There is a fear that people will lose their jobs and the harsh reality is that some may, but they will be replaced by new roles."
Earlier this year, Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England commented: "This is the dark side of technological revolutions and that dark side has always been there. That hollowing out is going to be potentially on a much greater scale in the future, when we have machines both thinking and doing — replacing both the cognitive and the technical skills of humans."
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So how can those working in finance ensure they have a future in the industry? And how can they hone the needed skills to survive in this new era?
Sharett outlines the four key skills she believes will see those working in finance through the stormy waters of the fourth revolution:
"I'd characterize adaptability as the ability to learn and develop – the quality of having an enquiring mind," says Sherratt.
She argues for the importance of having a "growth mindset", which she defines as a mindset in which individuals are open to investigating new things and enquiring, instead of settling and being comfortable.
In the face of the fourth revolution, adaptability will become increasingly important as roles may face faster change than ever before. A McKinsey report recently predicted: "Individuals will need to adjust to a new world in which job turnover could be more frequent, they might have to transition to new types of employment, and they likely must continually refresh and update their skills to match the needs of a dynamically changing job market."
"Flexibility is all about not only working across different disciplines and different business models, but also being able to show cultural and generational sensitivity" Sherratt notes. In the modern workplace, people now come together now in virtual teams from many different countries, and everybody operates differently because of that cultural style. Finding a way to bridge that cultural gap and work together for a common goal is key to succeeding in a workplace that will begin to look more and more different.
The generational gap is a really interesting part of this new workplace, Sharrett notes: "There's much talk about older workers coming back into the workplace with the new aspiration of the '100-year life' whereby people have a career throughout that time frame. As a millennial, how do you best interact with someone who is in their more twilight years? How do you find that common language in a way that you can work effectively as a team?"
The answer, according to Sharrett, is flexibility. A key skill to bridging the finance talent gap is an appreciation of the way different styles can work together and a willingness to work with these styles.
"Accountability is the skill to develop yourself," says Sherratt. "Lots of people can help you once you've got going, but you need to take that first step and take that initiative. Today, you need to have some idea about what you want to achieve and what you want to contribute."
The ability to think outside the box and drive change is the final skill that Sharrett highlights. "Innovation, ideas, creativity, these are all key. Having a desire to improve do things differently and to challenge the status quo is so important," she notes.
Sherratt encourages those wanting to hone their innovative skills to not only take note of innovative ideas coming from within their sector, but to also take inspiration from across a number of industries.
Automation: A career opportunity?
Overall, as the fourth industrial revolution approaches, it's clear that being human has never been more important.
"The World Economic Forum talks about a skills revolution, and with this comes a raft of new opportunities" Sheratt concludes. "The face of finance is changing. Existing finance roles will morph, and instead we will see a focus on independent thinking, values and team work as the repetitive/routine is replaced by automation."
AI in its current form will never be able to make fully "human" decisions, so emotional, human skills are more important than ever before. The skills Sherratt has highlighted and traits like emotional intelligence, creativity, intuition, emotion and ethics will be crucial to finance departments in the future.
Kathryn Sherratt, CFO of Financial Services Compensation Scheme was speaking at CFO Rising Europe Summit taking place in London on September 12–13, 2018. For the opportunity to hear from distinguished keynote speakers like Kathryn, book your ticket at the CFO Rising West Summit or the Controller Summit.