Storytelling is central to developing the finance skills of the future


Future-focused CFOs must build non-traditional skills like storytelling, said experts at the Finance Indaba.

Digital innovations like machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t just the domain of tech fundis. By yielding actionable data, they have a central role to play in accounts processes, making them key to the way the CFOs of the future will do business. Finance professionals therefore need to embrace digital tools and be open to continuous learning throughout our careers. This and other observations were made by a panel of finance and strategy experts in a talk entitled: “Finance skills of the future: Not all about finance.”

Not only do CFOs need to learn how to integrate innovative tools into the way they work, they must also reimagine the way they see themselves. Far from the traditional view of finance teams simply providing budgets, they need to view themselves as co-pilots in the business. “The finance function is at the heart of a business,” said Craig Henery, CFO of DHL Express South Africa.

As such, CFOs and finance professionals are moving more into the role of a business partner as opposed to fulfilling a completely separate finance function. Building strong relationships throughout the business is therefore key.

We need to move away from a bean counter mindset to one of a bean grower, added panellist Mohammed Shaikh, partner in digital controllership and finance transformation at Deloitte. We cannot look at the numbers in isolation, we need to see the bigger picture. This ties into becoming more of a strategic business partner. “We need to be part of a business growth conversation,” he said.

CFOs therefore need to be able to use the figures they work with to tell a story. This necessitates encouraging better communication, continued Mohammed. “The ability to influence is a powerful skill, and this needs to be combined with effective storytelling.” This is rooted in establishing a clear and strong relationship of trust between teams, stakeholders, exco and clients, enabling businesses to manage inevitable change more effectively. Keeping an eye on your team’s strengths and capitalising on these is also key to furthering business goals as we move towards the future.

Yet, there is a difference between commentary and storytelling when it comes to delivering key messages. It’s not just about sharing figures, it’s about establishing what they mean and then conveying this effectively. “We need to look at story selling as opposed to storytelling,” said Peterjohn (PJ) Bishop, vice president of Sage Africa and Middle East, building on this concept.

CFOs need to be more engaged with executives to determine where the business is and where it’s going. This leads to financial forecast buy-in from top management, facilitating necessary change. “CFOs have a helicopter view of what’s happening in business,” added Mohammed. “As such we need re-education around the role of the CFO and how we become a more active voice in the boardroom.”

We need to break barriers within businesses, added PJ. “There’s an ever-increasing need for collaboration. The company’s objectives should cascade throughout businesses, connecting different departments and their skill sets in pursuit of a common goal.”

Successfully developing your skill sets is also about establishing your “why”, said Craig. “It’s about connecting with your personal purpose, something that your organisation should echo. Once you understand your ‘why’, your ‘how’ becomes much easier.”

This necessitates more self-awareness, a more effective way of opening yourself up to future success, he added. Adopting innovations that connect to your passion, one that should be mirrored by the company, allows for more engaged learning, ultimately adding value to the business as a whole by meeting shared company objectives.

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