We have all heard the saying ‘talk is cheap’, but thanks to technology it would seem that in the world of finance answers are as well. In fact, they’re plentiful and instantaneous – helped by the rise of hi-tech robotics and clever algorithms, meaning routine work to gain data is being done more and more by machines. But what really sets people apart from these clever computers is their ability to ask probing questions – an inquisitive mind is, to coin another phrase, worth its weight in gold.

The ability of the finance professional to construct a good question is becoming paramount and that means management accountants and the finance function as a whole must adapt. The curiosity of a good question is worth a million good answers – it has the ability to inspire and compel people to think and act. The rise of automation taking on more routine tasks is freeing up resources in the finance function.

Now is the time for us to contemplate how we can move away from transactional processing – which uses technical and business analytical skills in isolation of others – to become truly collaborative finance partners with people and leadership skills.

The role of the finance professional is shifting from one of knowledge collection and creation, to interpreting meaning from information produced by software. That means the skills required for the role are continually changing.  And the knowledge that we as professionals currently hold and is valued today has a rapidly-decreasing shelf life.

Many of our skills and knowledge assumptions are likely to be obsolete in a couple of years and this will undoubtedly have an effect on finance professionals and their need to constantly learn new ones. We need to become adaptive learners, or to put it simply we need to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Luckily, this plays to the strength of the finance professional who has a mindset and philosophy of lifelong learning. It also highlights the ever-growing importance of continuing professional development and education in the quest to find out what we don’t know.

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (The Association) has a CGMA competency framework (https://www.cgma.org/resources/tools/cgma-competency-framework.html) based on what organisations expect finance professionals to do. Finance professionals are expected to perform accounting and finance activities within the context of the organisation in which they operate. They are expected to influence the decisions, actions and behaviours of their colleagues within their organisations and outside of it and to provide leadership at all levels. To do this, they need accounting and finance skills, business acumen, people skills and leadership skills.

As you’ll see when you click on the link above, the framework is underpinned by the need for objectivity, integrity and ethical behaviour. It also includes a commitment to continually acquire new skills and knowledge.

Our research – which included more than 300 interviews and 50 roundtable discussions on the future of finance – shows what organisations must do to transform their finance function. They must make use of technologies to release the full capacity of its professionals. They must widen the remit of finance to cover a broader range of management information, generating new insights and business solutions. And they must provide and empower finance professionals with new competencies and growth mindsets to create and preserve value.

However, while some organisations are innovators on the journey to the future of finance, some are lagging behind. Finance professionals should start a conversation on the future of the finance function in their organisation now. And, as part of that conversation, they must ask probing questions of where they themselves and their organisations are on the journey to realising the finance function of the future.

Further insight based on extensive research by The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (The Association) on changing competencies and mindsets can be found at https://www.cgma.org/resources/reports/changing-competencies-and-mindsets.html.

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