How to stay relevant in an automated finance department

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and rapidly gaining ground. Robotic automation is being used today in a wide range of industries to perform a wide variety of tasks, from automated self-service checkouts, automated bridge toll or ticket vending solutions and robots on assembly lines.

It’s also transforming accountancy and finance jobs through the automation of routine operational tasks. These range from payroll administration and bookkeeping to transactional accounting and audit functions.

What’s common is that robotic automation is used to perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks. There’s no denying that when it comes to routine and repetitive tasks, robots certainly have the upper hand.

According to an article in AFR, ANZ is one example of an organisation utilising Robotic Process Automation to perform tasks ranging from payroll administration to helpdesk support and customer service. The software used learns on the job and ANZ says that “in the 40 processes currently conducted by robot software, workers had generally been moved on to higher-value and more rewarding tasks.”

In contrast, non-routine jobs are becoming more productive and valuable with the use of new technology.

For example, according to Tech Republic, Big Four firm EY “has been using AI for more than 10 years to investigative frauds and disputes. But recently, the firm has begun focusing on intelligent automation using software robots. The robots, which are made of code as opposed to a physical entity, help eliminate repetitive tasks while recommending decisions to humans in charge of less mundane tasks, according to Nigel Duffy, EY's global innovation AI leader.”

AI necessitates a new type of finance professional

The use of robotics to automate transactional work means employers demand a new type of finance professional – one with business acumen, analysis skills and the ability to interpret data and provide insights.

After all, employers don’t need people to crunch the numbers any more. They need people who can step in after the automation of data processing to review and interpret data and use it to provide deeper insights for their business or clients than was previously possible.

Given that the future workforce will be one where robots and humans work side-by-side, and where demand for human workers will centre upon highly-skilled professionals, there are two steps finance professionals can take to remain a valued employee:

Upskill constantly

The first is to continuously upskill. To remain relevant and employable in the face of rapid technological advances, finance professionals need to ensure your skills become more strategic and analytical.

Take charge of your own development. Ask for stretch opportunities at work where you can step outside your transactional role and gain experience providing value-add to the business. Seek out opportunities to analyse data and then offer strategic insights.

Use social media to stay plugged in to industry leaders and thinkers, attend conferences, seminars and webinars, and consider joining an industry or professional association to keep your skills moving forward.

Superior soft skills

The second step you can take to remain valuable to employers is to develop your soft skills.

Soft skills are a lot more difficult to automate or outsource, unlike transactional tasks. It is soft skills that will become highly valued in the future workforce.

Finance professionals should work on building the following soft skills:

• Adaptability: An ability to accept and adapt to change is important because, like it or not, change is part of the modern working world. The jobs we do and the way we do them is and will change again and again. So employers want people who can move out of their comfort zone and see change as an opportunity for growth and innovation.

• Communication: Finance professionals must not only analyse and interpret data but communicate strategic advice in a way non-finance stakeholders understand.

• Rapport building: Another soft skill that will continue to be valued for the foreseeable future is the ability to build rapport. I’ve yet to hear of a robot that can motivate a workforce, bank goodwill, return a favour or build a relationship. These are qualities that enable a business to run smoothly and get things done. It’s these meaningful personal relationships and interactions that see employees go the extra mile for a client or each other. Human relationships simply cannot, and will not, be replicated by robots.

So while automation, AI and robotics will help us become more productive by taking over the monotonous, repetitive parts of our jobs and helping us make better and more informed decisions, it’s the ability to continuously upskill and the growth of your soft skills that’ll help your career prosper in the years ahead.

About this author

David Cawley, Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance nationally and also has full operational responsibility for regional offices in NSW, including Burwood, Hurstville, Liverpool, Parramatta and Wollongong. He has overall responsibility for over 35 staff based in these locations.

David began his career with Hays Education, based in the UK. Here he was instrumental in establishing a number of new business areas and managed a number of outsourced public sector contracts. David has worked extensively across both the private and public sector within both the UK and Australia and has extensive experience within the temp and perm market.

David took the opportunity to relocate to Australia with Hays in August 2010. David has a BSc degree within Architecture and Town and Country Planning.

Follow David on LinkedIn

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