From number crunchers to data analysts

CFO South Africa webinar reveals how accountants can upskill to remain relevant.

Productivity in the developed world has drastically decreased despite technological advancements over the past 50 years. According to Transaction

Capital CFO Sean Doherty (pictured), the same can be said for employee engagement. He was addressing a webinar hosted by CFO South Africa, in partnership with Dimago, on 25 February.

Sean said it’s unclear if there is a correlation between the decline in productivity and employee engagement, but there’s a good case for the two to be linked. He said further research showed that only 25 percent of employees are actively engaged, 25 percent of employees are doing the exact opposite of what their executive management expects, and 50 percent of staff are simply not bothered.
“It is not very different from what is happening overseas, but what is clear is that 75 percent of staff are actively disengaged,” said Sean.

Managing director at Clarkhouse Human Capital Roy Clark said many people are spending up to 50 percent of their time on financial operations and transactional processes. “Things like financial reporting and compliance account for another 30 percent, so the actual insight, the actual opportunity to add the value that you have been hired to do is not getting done,” said Roy. “This is where the disengagement starts.”

He pointed out that automation will not make jobs redundant, but it will make skills redundant. Accountants have always been referred to as number crunchers. In the world of automation, number-crunching skills must evolve to those of data analysis.

New skills needed in finance functions, believe it or not, are those possessed by storytellers, people who can tell the story behind the numbers. “Insight and foresight, that’s the key. Hindsight is a given now,” said Roy. “We need to flip how people spend their time.

“Fifty percent of people’s time needs to be spent on insights and analytics, and that comes from adding and engaging new technologies,” he added. Roy notes that future hires must be lifelong students. “People who are willing to learn, unlearn, relearn and upskill continuously.”

CEO at Dimago Data Analytics Pierre Naude said although businesses are moving towards automation and some are even dropping serious cash on new finance technologies, they’re still completing most of their tasks on Excel.

“Recently, we’ve found that people are spending anything between weeks and months creating reports on Excel, and these are knowledgeable people who want to add value, but they’re spending time on mundane tasks,” said Pierre. He and his team at Dimago help these professionals become digitally savvy.

“One of the first steps to being data-driven is to automate these Excel and manual functions,” said Pierre. They then spend time upskilling business teams to deliver the analytics themselves. This part happens relatively quickly with modern self-service technologies and only takes a couple of hours to learn. “There’s no need to understanding coding languages; you just need to know what data is required and what questions to ask,” said Pierre.

Sean said the new financial world is also moving away from event-based finance functions like month-end, half-year-end, and audits. “These things should be continuous because we have enough data and brainpower to make them continuous,” said Sean.