A fresh look at the future of finance

By Philippa Watkins | 17 March 2021

The stage was set for CIPFA-Penna and CIPFA’s celebration of all things finance and talent, ensuring the finance profession continues to develop and be future focused. On 4 February we gathered virtually; a now regular part of our lockdown activities.

We were delighted to be working together to share our combined experience and support finance professionals, particularly as they have played such a crucial role in steering the public sector through the past 12 months. The governance, leadership and resilience displayed during this crisis has been the backbone of the public sector response to COVID.

The CIPFA-Penna team were joined by experts from CIPFA with Rob Whiteman, chief executive, kicking off the day with his views on the ‘Future of Finance’. Rob gave a high-level overview of the major topical issues facing the profession over the next few years including non-financial reporting which needs to be embraced as opposed to being seen an additional burden. The movement for standards-setting globally is heading towards non-financial reporting, which he emphasised is as important as financial reporting – for instance, disclosing whether targets on sustainability are being met.

This links to audit reform, another key issue. The question being posed is whether audit is independent enough? As evidenced by several studies and Government reviews – including the Redmond Review – Rob anticipated that there will be audit reform and clarified that the Government has decided not to act on the recommendation to create an office of local audit regulation for the time being (as was suggested in the Review).

When it came to the finance skills that organisations will need, Rob talked about understanding cyber risk as part of the control framework. He felt that while currently finance is used to retrospectively report, he was in no doubt that in 10 years’ time it would be providing real time assurance, real time audit and real time internal audit assurance. He was confident that the professional work will be less transactional with ‘less bookkeeping and more automation, and more use of data analytical tools and artificial intelligence’.

Therefore, the accountant of the future – while understanding bookkeeping and the core financial skillset – will need more statistical ability and understanding of data manipulation. Future finance professionals will know their way around the concepts of cyber security and artificial intelligence. Indeed, these developments are already changing the horizon for organisations.

Within the corporate sector there has been a lot of talk about multi-disciplinary professional teams. Increasingly, our corporate equivalents want joined up advice from people who are specialists in finance, IT, HR, property and real estate, to help form and make business decisions. This is a trend which, Rob feels, we’re likely to see in the public sector too. In fact, much of the executive recruitment we do at CIPFA-Penna requires finding finance professionals who are able to work in a multi-disciplinary way which supports change.

Flexibility will be another watchword in the future of finance. Given the change in landscape over the last 12 months, the ability to recruit talent into our teams is now more flexible under the new ways of working. It is clear that we won’t be going back to working full time in the office, so this gives recruiters like CIPFA-Penna the ability to recruit from a wider talent pool. Location is now not the issue. There will be a duty on employers as to how that works for people.

Softer skills and the ability to influence will be essential in the finance skillset; enabling finance teams and leaders to deal with change, become more adaptable, resilient and able to focus on the bigger picture. Future finance teams will need to demonstrate the balance of technical skills enhanced with softer skills to be better placed to tackle the challenges ahead.

In putting finance talent on the stage, we hope we have given the profession good insight into the future and supported their professional development. If we can help you with your finance recruitment challenges do get in touch.

Philippa Watkins is associate director, local government, at CIPFA-Penna

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