Home Resources Blog

Why the future of finance depends on developing new skills

8 mins to read
Why the future of finance depends on developing new skills

According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), “In the era of big data, digital technologies, such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, mean the finance function can increasingly add business value through greater accuracy, efficiency and strategic insight. To grasp these opportunities, teams need the right mix of digital skill sets and business intelligence”.  

In response, CFOs globally need to anticipate the need to retain, nurture and upskill the valuable resources that they already employ in the finance function, as they grapple with the demands and opportunities that new technology presents.  

In this blog, we discuss the factors behind the need for change, and how we believe the future of finance depends on possessing, or working towards developing, three essential finance skills:

  1. Having a growth mindset to embrace new technology
  2. Adopting a business partnering approach
  3. Becoming a financial storyteller

But first, let’s take a moment to understand what is driving the need for upskilling within the financial sector.

Changing finance roles - now & in the future

The pandemic ushered in a new wave of technological innovation and accounting data analytics. More than ever, businesses are investing in forecasting technology and this will be accompanied by growth in advanced accounting techniques, such as automated rolling forecasts, scenario planning, machine learning and ultimately, predictive analytics.  

These techniques will require data science and financial data analytics skills, accompanied by well-rounded communication skills, such as finance business partnering skills. But the question is, do finance teams possess these required skills currently? Insights from the 2022 FSN Modern Finance Forum Global Survey suggest not, stating that “73% of finance executives say they will be unable to meet their objectives without significant specialization and upskilling”. Furthermore, predictions made by Deloitte in ‘Crunch time V Finance 2025' state that “There will be a premium on talent that understands technology and business. These professionals are already in short supply”.

The challenges of talent management will be profound and seem set to define the competitiveness and agility of organisations for the foreseeable future. New technologies can alleviate some of the strain by supporting flexible working and a more fulfilling working environment. But smart CFOs know that upskilling will be a key differentiator, making the finance function more attractive to new hires, reducing burnout and improving the competitiveness and agility of their organisations at the same time.

And research supports this. In its report Leadership Vision for 2024, Gartner reveals that “Digital Tech Initiatives (e.g. Including Technologies/ IT)’ and ‘Workforce (e.g. Retention, Training, Hiring, etc.)” are the joint top strategic business priorities for boards during 2024-2025, which arguably suggests they naturally go hand-in-hand.

So, let’s now explore the three desirable new skills for finance teams in more detail.

1. Having a growth mindset to embrace new technology

Although Excel remains a firm-favourite for FP&A amongst finance professionals, it is not without its drawbacks. Even for the seasoned pro amongst you, spreadsheets can be time consuming, error-prone and not ideal for performing complex financial planning tasks, such as year-end close or budgeting and forecasting, that require copious amounts of stakeholder collaboration and multiple data sets.

Finance teams need to adopt a growth mindset and remain open-minded to exploring Excel alternatives whilst on their digital transformation journey. And the latest research shows, finance jobs may even depend on possessing such adaptability.  

Predictions made by Deloitte state that “Accountants using spreadsheets will be replaced by technology that does 90% of the work without human intervention. Higher-value work requires cross-functional collaboration among business people, technology teams, and finance strategists.”  

Gartner makes similar predictions, believing that by 2028 “50% of organizations will have replaced time-consuming, bottom-up forecasting approaches with AI, resulting in autonomous operational, demand and other types of planning”.

Finance teams therefore need to accept that new technology is not the enemy. Not adopting it is.

Embracing dedicated FP&A software like Phocas to automate mundane, repetitive finance tasks isn’t cheating or making finance managers any less of a finance professional. It’s simply making them more efficient and effective, so they can afford to be more proactive which is not only better for business, but potentially more fulfilling for them too. For example, Excel users should consider whether spending an afternoon fixing errors across various spreadsheets is really an achievement, or rather a missed opportunity to undertake more value-add finance activities.

With the exponential rise in cyber security attacks, there are also serious security risks associated with sharing financial analysis in Excel spreadsheets via email. According to a report by statista.com, “In 2023, manufacturing saw the highest share of cyberattacks among the leading industries worldwide” at a staggering 25.7%. The retail and wholesale category also ranked 5th, experiencing 10.7% of all attacks. As a result, switching to more secure cloud-based financial planning & analysis technology has become somewhat of a necessity, rather than a choice for finance teams. With the decision essentially taken out of their hands, focus can then shift from asking “should we invest in new technology, and if so, which one?”, to “which tasks can we automate thanks to our new technology, and what new skills do we need to truly optimize it?”.  

2. Adopting a business partnering approach

According to the 2023 FP&A Trends survey, analytical skills continue to be the most sought-after capabilities in Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A), with 45% of organizations listing them as a requirement. However, there has also been a 17% rise in demand for business partnering skills (from 24% in 2022 to 41% in 2023). But what actually is business partnering?  

Business partnering for CFOs and financial management involves actively collaborating with other departments within the organization to drive strategic decision-making and achieve business objectives. Rather than solely focusing on financial reporting and compliance, CFOs and finance teams engage in cross-functional communication and analysis to provide insights that inform key business initiatives.  

By fostering strong relationships with senior management and business leaders, CFOs and finance teams can align financial goals with broader organizational objectives, ultimately contributing to enhanced efficiency, innovation and overall business success. Business partnering ultimately paves the way for collaborative FP&A.

On paper, this all sounds great but in reality, business partnering may require finance teams to evaluate and redevelop their skill sets. For example, the ICAEW reports that business partnering requires “communicating with clarity, challenging by instigating breakthrough conversations and bringing together cross-functional teams to support data-driven decision making”.

Having all the required financial certifications and technical skills simply isn’t enough. To make a success of business partnering, finance professionals need to possess a strong sense of business acumen; excellent at problem-solving, critical thinking and managing stakeholders at all levels of the organization.  

Easy to use FP&A software like Phocas can significantly accelerate a finance professional’s ability to improve their finance-business partnering approach, as well as learn the new skills it requires.  

Phocas can help break down departmental silos across businesses by:  

  • presenting data analysis in a visual format that non-financial audiences can understand
  • acting as an objective reference point during difficult conversations when making financial decisions
  • forging closer working relationships between finance, sales and operational teams

Crucially, software also plays a vital role in fostering trust, one of the key skills required for successful business partnering. Instead of positioning finance teams as mere “gatekeepers” of data housed within the business' ERP system, Phocas enables widespread access to valuable financial insights and self-serve reporting, all whilst preserving the integrity of the general ledger.  

3. Becoming a financial storyteller  

Historically, finance teams have been known as the “number crunchers” of the organization, associated with simply running reports, producing charts and leaving the rest of the business to interpret them in its own way. But with businesses having access to more data than ever before, this in itself poses a risk, as sales and operational people waste valuable time wading through an abundance of reports and analysis. That’s if they have time to look at any of it at all.  

Hence the rise in the demand for financial storytelling skills. Deloitte’s 2025 predictions state that “Routine forecasts will be handled by algorithms that are constantly evaluated by small resource pools including data scientists, story-tellers, and cognitive psychologists”.

Financial storytelling is a way of explaining complex financial information or data in a simpler and more engaging manner. It involves using narratives, examples, visuals and in some cases depending on the topic, even humour, to convey financial concepts, trends, or insights to different audiences, such as investors, employees, or stakeholders.  

It is perhaps by far one of the most important skills for finance professionals to possess, but arguably one of the hardest. Some people are naturally better at telling stories than others, but that’s not to say it’s a skill that can’t be learnt, because it definitely can be.

In a blog for Acuity magazine, Andrew Jepson CA reports that “Aristotle’s Modes of Persuasion offers a great framework to guide a finance person into storytelling”. He explains how Aristotle defined the three dimensions of storytelling:  

  • ethos [ethical appeal] - demonstrating you’re credible and have authority to speak
  • logos [rational appeal] - using facts to support your story (but not too many!)
  • pathos [emotional appeal] - engaging the heart, and not just the head

Jepson adds that Aristotle believed “If you hit these three dimensions you will engage your audience and it’s more likely they’ll remember your presentation”.

Financial storytelling is both a soft skill and an interpersonal skill that can help to build rapport with sales and operational colleagues, who may not be as financially-savvy as the finance team. When done well, using data dashboards and visualizations like the ones Phocas can produce, storytelling has the potential to be incredibly powerful for driving change within an organization.

Future-focused finance skills

“CFOs can either plan for change, or plan to retire” says Deloitte.

As frank as this statement might sound, we couldn’t agree more. With the finance landscape continuing to evolve at pace, it's clear that embracing technology, fostering collaboration, and mastering the art of financial storytelling are essential new skills for finance teams to develop or nurture in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Transitioning from traditional tools like Excel to automation with FP&A software not only enhances efficiency but opens doors to deeper insights and strategic collaboration across departments. Moreover, adopting a business partnering approach isn't just about numbers - it's about actively engaging with stakeholders to drive meaningful decision-making and organizational success. This shift requires not only analytical skills but also strong communication and relationship-building abilities. Finally, financial storytelling emerges as a powerful tool for bridging the gap between data and action. By crafting compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders, finance professionals can inspire change and drive innovation within their organizations.

Thanks to the likes of specialist budgeting software, cash flow forecasting tools and data analytics with artificial intelligence query features available from Phocas, CFOs and finance teams can free up the headspace required to make the necessary leap from being seen as ‘just’ finance leaders, to valuable business partners; helping to foster a companywide culture of data-driven decision making. 

Featured report

CFO 2030: The future of the Finance function

Download now
CFO 2030: The future of the Finance function
Written by Alison McKenna
Alison McKenna

Before joining Phocas as an in-house tech writer, Ali worked as a freelancer and brings a wealth of industry experience to her writing. She previously occupied a senior management position at a national distributor of plumbing and building supplies in the UK. Ali has a genuine passion for writing about ways to help businesses feel good about data.

Browse by category
Key data in one easy to understand view
Get a demo

Find out how our platform gives you the visibility you need to get more done.

Get your demo today