How to retool your finance team in an era of automation

Guest Post
Guest Post
August 1, 2017

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jennifer Juo, HR & Learning Insights Writer, Udemy for Business.


We’ve all heard of automation and robots affecting jobs at factories, but it’s changing the face of white-collar work too. As number-crunching tasks become automated, corporate finance teams must rapidly redefine the skills needed for their teams.

According to research by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), 55% of survey respondents felt the development of intelligent automated accounting systems was the top trend to impact accounting roles in the next 3-5 years. Workplace automation is taking over routine back office work like bookkeeping, employment and sales data, compliance reporting, and tax filing.

Fourty-one percent also highlighted the impact of cloud computing on accounting and finance roles. Cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are inexpensively available for any company, however small, to process invoices or tax returns without much accounting expertise required.

In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 34% of a financial manager’s tasks could be automated. It’s not surprising that more than half of US office workers are worried automation will replace their jobs, according to a recent Udemy for Business survey.

Automation creates a more strategic finance role

However, as robots do the more mundane number-crunching tasks, it doesn’t mean your finance team will become obsolete. In fact, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems create all kinds of data that allow finance managers to uncover new insights into the business—offering an opportunity to play a more strategic role at the company.

Instead of processing transactions in the back office, finance is now poised to provide key business intelligence that can drive company revenue, profit, employee performance, and market share.

Serious skills gaps on your finance team

In this new era, the finance team that succeeds will be the one that capitalizes on its new, more strategic role. But unfortunately, many finance teams aren’t quite ready to jump on this opportunity. According to a study Bridging the Skills Gap in Finance Functions by Robert Walters, CFOs highlighted some critical skills gaps among finance professionals that will need to be strengthened before they can effectively work across departments and provide strategic insight into the business.

In the same study, 61% of CFOs said they are struggling to source qualified candidates from traditional talent pools. Instead, CFOs are turning to internal training and development as the solution, with 49% of CFOs preferring to fill skills gaps by upskilling current employees. Why? It’s a less risky option than recruiting externally. Plus individual employee growth helps enhance company culture and engagement.

4 new skills for a redefined finance team

The key challenge will be to ensure your finance department employees are equipped with the right skills to succeed in a new, elevated role. An agile learning approach will be critical to ensure you and your team stays ahead of the latest technology disruptions. Here are 4 critical skills offered by Udemy for Business, an online learning platform, to get your team up to speed quickly and effectively.

1. Data analytics to harness business insights

According to a 2016 survey report by Robert Half and the Institute of Management Accountants, 46% of finance executives view data analytics skills as a serious talent shortage on their teams. While machine learning is generating all kinds of raw data, turning this data into actionable insights by manipulating and identifying key data trends or “data mining” is a new competency that finance pros must have under their belt. Data mining requires strong mathematical skills so finance professionals with a statistical background are natural candidates.

Suggested courses:

  • All finance professionals should be Excel experts, starting with a basic Excel course to advanced data analysis with Excel pivot tables.
  • Finance employees can also become well versed in database skills through the Complete SQL Bootcamp so they can store, query, and manipulate data effectively. Excel and SQL are powerful when used together. SQL helps generate useful data, while Excel can help finance managers further analyze and make sense of the data.
  • Machine-learning and data analytics programming languages like R and Python are also gaining ground in finance for more complex data analysis and risk management as well as forecasting and predictive analytics. Finance pros can also learn how to use R and Python to develop machine learning algorithm models to create accurate predictions and value-add to your business.

2. Communicating with stakeholders across the company

Finance team members will need to be savvy communicators to help stakeholders across the organization understand their key data insights. This means telling the story behind the numbers in a simple and accessible way. Unfortunately, 40% of CFOs felt that persuasion and influencing skills were missing on their team while 39% said stakeholder management skills were also sorely needed. The shift from simply reporting financial numbers to providing strategic business advice means today’s finance professionals must sharpen their ability to persuade and manage stakeholder expectations.

Suggested courses:

3. Business acumen to make sense of the data

As the scope of accounting and finance jobs expand into more strategic territory, 60% of CFOs also felt business knowledge was lacking on their current finance team. Finance team members today need a deep understanding of the business so they can act as strategic partners with multiple departments and successfully provide data-driven decisions to help drive growth.

Suggested courses: Short of getting an MBA, employees can learn the ins and outs of growing a business through An Entire MBA in One Course. Your organization can also create custom tutorials on your unique business and competitor landscape on the Udemy for Business platform as well.

4. Don’t forget good customer service skills

An often overlooked, but important skill is the ability to interact and converse with customers in a timely and professional way. Unfortunately, while much coaching on verbal and written communication is done for customer service reps on the front lines, when purchases or complaints reach the finance team, the customer experience tends to drop. Customer-facing finance employees should receive the same soft skills and service coaching so they too can interact effectively.

Suggested courses: In addition to your own custom training, finance team members can also learn a few tips through a basic customer service skills course.

New hires are also attracted by opportunities to learn

Finally, internal training may not solve all your skills gaps, and you still might have to recruit some new blood. In the current tight labor market, 64% of accounting and finance job-seekers see the chance to gain new skills as an important criteria when looking at potential companies. Offering learning and development opportunities for both your potential hires and existing employees will be a win-win situation for your team.


Udemy for Business offers online learning that’s engaging and updated in real time. Its mission is to help employees do whatever comes next. Udemy for Business offers two plans to provide an effective and affordable way to upskill your finance team: a Team Plan (for 5-20 employees) and an Enterprise Plan (for 21+ employees).

read next