Robots lining up to take your finance jobs? Not yet, says Michael Page's Lars Fischer

Digital transformation is taking place in SA, but it still has minimal impact on hiring decisions.

While digital transformation is starting to take centre stage with organisations in South Africa, it’s yet to demonstrate an impact on hiring decisions. Apart from the large financial institutions, many organisations are still coming to grips with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the recruitment landscape in the finance space is expected to see a shift, albeit slowly.

Lars Fischer, Operating Director at Michael Page South Africa says, “Look at how much finance departments have changed over the past twenty years – they used to use paper journals, then they moved onto Microsoft Excel, and most recently ERP systems – there has already been considerable process automation aimed at increasing efficiencies and reducing costs. When it comes to skills-based hiring, we’ve already been supporting this operational evolution for some years now.”

Lars does, however, believes that automation will happen at a more aggressive pace. His advice therefore, is for both hiring organisations and professionals to focus on developing adaptability. 

“Adaptability is and will continue to be a relevant skill for most jobs going forward, including those in the accounting space. Finance departments will have to work closely with HR departments to align on the talent requirements of the future, looking at how roles will evolve, how the tasks within the roles will change, and how they need to reskill, redeploy and hire to support that.”

He agrees with the prevailing sentiment that accountants will be relieved of the repetitive or mundane work that can easily be automated, and professionals will need to be upskilled to focus on areas that will truly add strategic value. 

“Though every accountant will not be redeployed into a more strategic role” he says, “automation will lead to the creation of new jobs. When robots were introduced into a manufacturing environment, everyone assumed that jobs would be lost. In fact, along with benefitting from increased efficiencies, more jobs were also created. Tasks and roles that we are yet not aware of may evolve owing to the digital transformation our economy is undergoing.” 

Giving share trading as an example, Lars says, “Today, software is supporting a majority of the trading work. Numerous traders have had to adapt and upskill or they have had to make career shifts. But the introduction of software into the world of share trading also created new roles for computer engineers and other enablement functions to oversee trading and ensure the systems run efficiently.”

Likewise, he says, increased data analytics and automation will mean that finance professionals will have access to more data. “More than ever, people will have to analyse big data, draw the right conclusions and offer strategic advice. Finance professionals will have more cross-functional roles, working with the different business units far more than they currently do.”

While Lars says that there are a lot of unknowns on the horizon, it is possible for finance professionals to prepare themselves for an automated future. “If I had to advise my son or daughter about what to study now, I would still suggest finance and accounting, as it teaches exactly how the different parts of an organisation are linked to one another from a financial perspective. This will remain extremely important, but I would also advise them to combine this study along with subjects more related to creativity and softs skills. The ability to develop innovative solutions and adapt to a dynamic environment will be defining factors for a successful, long-lasting career. Other complementary areas would include fintech, project management, or change management.” 

Lars also recommends that already-qualified finance professionals should raise their hands to be part of any organisational change processes, to gain the experience and develop an agile mindset that will help shape their future careers.