Finance 2025: Deloitte’s perspective on what the future holds

By Carryn Tennent, Director of Finance Transformation for Deloitte Africa

From cloud computing and robotics to analytics, artificial intelligence and automation, a new class of digital disruptors is transforming how business gets done. Expect these disruptors to have a big impact on the future of finance organisations. But what exactly will their impact be? What is the future of finance in the face of these developments?

In business, robots are working alongside human beings to build cars, deliver packages, design computers and make electricity. Smart machines are taking up residence in hospitals, shipping containers, drug stores and more.  Over the next seven years, these same technologies will increasingly become entrenched in the work we do and how we do it changing the future of work. Whilst we see this coming, no organisation we know of has shown evidence of scalable, transformational change and put it all together – not in finance.

It is imperative for us to remember that the business leaders that finance supports are people first. People see how the technology can potentially make their personal lives better and easier – which is what they want for finance, and for the integration of the technology to be a success, the buy-in of the people is imperative. At the rate that the needs of businesses are growing coupled with the pace of innovation, CFOs have an opportunity to either plan for change or to retire. It is not about reinventing the wheel but instead to focus on adapting and adopting.

Key for CFOs is to anticipate how organisations will evolve looking carefully at what finance leaders are currently doing, the technology that is available to support and how finance could contribute even more to the success of the company. Taking these observations into account, Deloitte was able to predict the below changes to shape the future of finance in work, the workforce and the workplace – Finance 2025.

The future of work

Traditional process and the silos around them will disappear as the focus of finance shifts to design, configuration and maintenance of systems. Finance will excel in translating business practices and governance models into automated processes. The role of finance will evolve to a level where teams of business partners collaborate to focus on the most complex commercial decisions in the business as needed. Information required to make business decisions will appear “just in time”, fully integrated into overall management business processes.

Naturally, stakeholder expectations for information and insights will increase dramatically as information quality is overseen by people monitoring the machines that do the work. Accountants using spreadsheets for example will be replaced by technology that does 90% of the work and cross-functional collaboration amongst business people, technology teams and finance strategists ensuring delivery on higher value work.

People will do work that is more human and investigative in nature leaving the automation tools to do the mundane and repetitive tasks.

The future workforce

Finance operations will depend on growing collaboration among finance, IT and the business with organisations turning to centres of innovation to help with understanding as well as communication across disciplines. As the workforce is augmented by robots and cognitive agents, finance will need humans who can build and connect systems that interact with each other. Some will be traditional employees and others maybe contractors or freelancers. In either case, premium will be on talent that understands technology and business. The challenge is that these professionals are already in short supply and the shift to a hybrid workforce including on-and-off-balance sheet workers will continue to grow.

Computers will handle routine requests from business leaders giving finance the opportunity to be more proactive due to the less time that will be spent preparing data for analysis and rather spending more time on what the data tells them about the business and how gaps in performance expectations can be closed.  Cloud based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) will help ensure that businesses are constantly updated on the latest release.

The mix of talent will challenge old-school leaders. New employees will work alongside traditional business analysts to deliver real-time information and insights to finance customers. Augmented by artificial intelligence (AI), they will provide deep learning and pattern recognition that extend the capabilities of humans alone. Companies that want to thrive in the brave new world will cultivate the skills set necessary for this new ‘self-service’ culture that will become the norm.

The workplace of the future

Workforce in finance will change with its reach into the business expanding. New leadership and teaming models focused on intense levels of collaboration grow. Their purpose will be to tackle challenges too complex to be addressed by any individual or group with the same skillset.

Increased complexity will drive the need for continuous training and development and demand for specialised talent.  Leading organisations will implement finance command centres where small groups of professionals can monitor the full array of processes using smart dashboards. Chatbots and voice integration will go mainstream giving stakeholders the benefit of seamless and intuitive interactions with data and technology. One result will be new levels of agility, especially for supporting M & A and divestment activities.

Agility will become a prized quality as finance organisations have to deliver differentiated service levels to different parts of the business. Under performers might also get hands on support for remedial purposes with combinations of people and technology being the glue that keeps teams connected. Agility will lead to finance organisations being flatter and more distributed with agile teams taking advantage of easy access to data no matter where or how it is generated.  Security will continue to be important taking on a ‘new’ urgency in a self-service world.

This new empowerment in the workplace means that employees will be doing new things in new ways and it is clear that the years ahead hold great promise for finance organisations. Now is the time for CFOs to step back and make sure that their roadmaps to the future are well positioned to take advantage of the inevitable disruption.

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