“Every company now is finding themselves having to become a tech company,” says Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO at ALX and The ROOM. “Every bank, insurance company, every school, every hospital, is now a tech company.”
We were lucky to sit down with Fred recently to discuss this and what it means for the finance industry in particular — how digital transformation is changing not only the way finance professionals work but how organizations must adapt to hire and retain the best talent.
In an hour-long “fireside chat” with CFI Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer Scott Powell, Fred dove into the many ways the digital revolution—accelerated by the global COVID-19 pandemic—has altered the finance talent landscape and is driving the next generation of finance professionals. From the forces at play to the elevated role of financial analysts to key ways employers can attract, engage, and keep top talent, it was an incredibly insightful conversation (that sparked a lively Q&A!).
Read the highlights below or grab a coffee and watch the full, free webinar recording on your own time.
“There’s a lot of turmoil and disruption, but in that, a lot of opportunity is being created.”
Referring to it as the “fourth industrial revolution,” Fred began by talking about how every organization must embrace the digital world we live in and how it’s shifted the way we work, learn, communicate, and operate.
“The Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, autonomous systems, simulation…all of these trends are shaping the world because of the increased computing power we have in our hands. Companies have to transform themselves, how they interact with their customers, how decisions are made, how they manage their organization, every company is grappling with this.”
Fred identifies three major ways this affects the finance talent landscape now, and in the future:
There’s a massive need for talent that has the skills to thrive in this new world. This includes reskilling current employees to adapt.
Every company needs to embrace and go through a digital transformation or they’ll be left behind.
With the post-pandemic increase in remote work, labor markets have become global. Geographical barriers have been broken and opportunities opened for both job-seekers and organizations looking for talent.
“Companies can find much more diverse talent, affordable talent, talent with more skills they’re looking for. And for the talent—the world is your oyster,” Fred says.
“The biggest change is your mindset.”
These shifts are also happening on a micro level, in terms of the changing role of a financial analyst—one Scott himself has seen over his decades-long career and describes as “profound.”
“I started my career in the late 80s and the role of a financial analyst is so dramatically different—and the differences are accelerating,” Scott says before asking Fred his perspective.
He notes one sweeping difference is the evolution from being essentially a compliance partner to a business partner. From focusing mostly on following accounting practices, issuing statements on time, and looking backward to give a static picture of performance to someone who can think outside of the box, provide continuous and real-time insight, and make predictions about the future based on the technology and data we now have available.
“There is a lot more innovation and creativity involved in finance roles now,” Fred summarizes.
Going on to discuss how automation and data collection have both transformed the role and empowered financial analysts, Fred emphasizes the need for business intelligence and data analysis skills to drive your career forward. Financial analysts also have to think of themselves as business intelligence analysts, going beyond Excel to develop skills in data visualization, strategy, and even Python in some cases.
“You really have to change the way you see yourself as a financial analyst and how you add value to an organization,” says Fred. “The world has changed and you need to change as a financial analyst to be competitive today.”
“One thing is clear—we’re not going back to the old way of working.”
It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic had a drastic impact on the way we work—and the way we think about work. While digital transformation was already a phenomenon in motion, the pandemic dramatically and globally accelerated it.
“We went from a company that thought everyone had to geographically be in the same location to a remote-first company and we’re never going back. It’s been transformational for us and what we’ve been able to achieve, simply by going remote-first,” Scott enthuses about CFI’s experience.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges for companies in this new reality. Fred lists adapting company culture, logistical complexities around employment and tax laws, communication barriers, and of course the reduction in in-person connection as potential hurdles. But that organizations and their leaders have the power to make this a positive shift.
The top things Fred says employers need to be thinking about now are:
Reskilling and hiring new talent to bring in the finance, business intelligence, and technology skills to retool their workforce for the future.
Positioning your brand as an employer to attract global talent and building a presence on platforms and within networks to present yourself as a global brand.
Creating a hospitable work environment for people from different cultures, or in different time zones, to keep them motivated and productive and help them succeed.
“One of the most important things employers can do to retain their folks is to give them a sense of purpose.”
It’s one thing to attract top global finance talent, but what about keeping them? It ultimately comes down to acknowledging and nurturing your employees as human beings with a desire for purpose, autonomy, and growth.
“Young talent entering the workforce have seen their parents work for 20 or 30 years and be retrenched or, because of the financial crisis, not be able to retire properly,” says Fred. They see there’s a lot more to life than work and are more conscious about their working environment, the mission and values of the company, and that it’s contributing positively to society. Meanwhile, more mature professionals are reassessing their positions and values after the pandemic and its following “Great Resignation” changed their perspective.
To put this into action Fred suggests focusing on several things, starting with growth. “Research shows only 10% of effective skills can be learned in a classroom, 20% from peers and coaches, and 70% from experience,” he explains. “People want to be challenged and empowered so they can do things that will give them that experience and they can grow their skills and careers.”
Scott echoes this—that people learn skills in the workplace, need opportunities to learn and apply those skills at their desk or on their laptop, and build them through habit. It’s one of the tenets behind CFI’s on-demand courses and on-the-job resources, which support continuous, anywhere, anytime learning and skill development.
Mentorship and coaching are others, followed by the freedom and flexibility to work on different projects, work in the ways they want, and feel empowered to take initiative.
Fred urges employers to ask themselves this question: “Many companies are customer-centric but they also have to think about being employee-centric—what kind of experience are your employees having so they want to stay?”
Sign up to watch the free recording and listen to the full discussion, poll results, and Q&A on the future of finance roles in a changing talent landscape. And if you’re an organization or team leader looking to engage and upskill your finance workforce, check out CFI for Teams.
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