Prepare for the future, it's already here (Part 1): Today's leaders need to be digitally savvy

Finance leaders have no choice but to prepare themselves and their workplaces for the digitization revolution. Workplaces are already reaping the benefits of automation and AI, and to remain current, CFOs need to embrace self-education along with any formal training that they can lay their hands on.

Technology is changing the world as we know it. Digital advancements in the past decade alone have shown how important it is for today’s leaders to be digitally savvy – not just in the workspace, but also in their private lives. This rings particularly true for leaders and professionals in the finance sector as emerging trends in fintech are disrupting business models.

The finance professionals of today and tomorrow need to have a diverse set of skills to survive in the future. And unfortunately, educational systems around the world are nowhere near adequately preparing future generations for the new roles that are currently being defined and developed.

Mckinsey’s 2017 report titled ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained’ has painted a daunting picture: At least 400 million to 800 million people around the world could be displaced by automation and will need to find new jobs by 2030. The report also makes compelling assertions about tech significantly reducing operational costs.

“Higher wages make the business case for automation adoption stronger. However, low-wage countries may be affected as well, if companies adopt automation to boost quality, achieve tighter production control, move production closer to end consumers in high-wage countries, or other benefits beyond reducing labour costs.” 

It’s clear that success and Survival in a fintech-disrupted world lie in personal development.

 A ‘digitising first’ mindset
“Self-education is key and the ones who take initiative to skill-up independently by making use of vast online resources will come out on top,” says FIR Tech Holdings CFO Fanie Botha.

In his personal life, Fanie has adopted a ‘digitising first mindset’ in order to be future fit in business. He’s not shy to experiment with mobile technology and apply it wherever possible. This includes the use of cost-sharing apps while on holiday or out with friends and family, to using mobile technology to facilitate office Secret Santa projects.

Fanie believes people who are fearful of the coming technological changes in the finance industry, must turn their attitudes around. “If you look at the things you seriously dislike about your job today: Navigating through accounting/ERP system screens between value adding activities. Tediously finding the correct codes to use and to prepare financial journals. Repetitive searching for financial information, copying and pasting values into reports and painstakingly trawling through hundreds of transactions to find mismatches which cause balance sheet imbalances… In five years these functions won’t exist and you will be able to be more creative in your career. The next aim in tech is to make work fun again.”

Robotic process automation (RPA) is gaining traction across many sectors, not just in finance. Reporting roles are now being automated, allowing employees to concentrate on more value adding tasks.

“25-years-ago when Excel came into the workplace, most accountants were still capturing information on accounting paper, making the books balance with a total line, so the Excel technology would have been very daunting for those professionals – but fast forward to today, there isn’t a single professional that doesn’t’ use Excel,” Fanie says.

The Mckinsey report shows automation of manual functions has freed up at least 30 percent of employees’ time, and information is being processed at speeds far exceeding human capability.

“For an organisation with about 40 full-time accounting staff, this equates to savings of 25,000 hours per year or put differently, about R6-million saving,” says Fanie.

Tech advancements show that nearly 50 percent of current job functions can be automated across most sectors, given the evolving nature of algorithms and artificial intelligence.

There are no holy cows when it comes to digitization. In fact, researchers estimate that 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce in the agriculture and manufacturing industries) will need to switch occupational categories by 2030. 

“Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate,” the Mckinsey report states.  

Fanie notes these kinds of changes also occurred at the end of the third industrial revolution.

“We saw the introduction of mass industrial automation and robotics. The microprocessor revolutionised manufacturing and countries that embraced and adopted this revolutionary technology, were the beneficiaries of sustainable manufacturing industries.”

They still maintain a competitive advantage in the 21st century. Similarly, in this industrial revolution, businesses and countries that embrace and adopt 4IR technologies (including RPA) are going to be the global beneficiaries of agility, efficiency and cost.”