- Finance employees’ digital talents are outstripping those of their managers, leading to a widening skill gap that could hamper CFOs as they look to hang on to top talent and push forward on digital initiatives, according to a study released by Gartner. The lack of digital skills in senior finance leadership could drive half of unwanted staff turnover by 2026, Gartner predicted.
- Presently, about 18% of finance staff demonstrate digital competency, according to the study, outstripping the 11% of their managers who demonstrate the same — indicating a growing demand for tech skills.
- CFOs and other senior finance managers will need to hone their digital skills to close that knowledge gap, especially as the steady forward march of technologies like AI changes the way the finance function works. This is only becoming more critical as “staff is distinguishing itself from management in terms of their own understanding of these technologies,” Marco Steecker, research director in Gartner’s finance practice said in an interview.
With digital skills becoming more and more valuable in the finance function, taking the necessary steps to learn these new competencies is a must for finance leadership to effectively engage with their staff. As a manager, “you don’t want to get into a place where [the gap] becomes so wide it becomes really hard to catch up,” Steecker said.
However, finance leaders are spending less time upskilling these skills than expected, which could be partially due to the growing list of responsibilities that have landed on finance chiefs’ desks in recent years. Keeping up with changing regulations and the other finance aspects of their work lessens the amount of time leaders have to cultivate these hands-on skills, which require time spent actually using the programs or tools at play, he said.
Tech-savvy management is also becoming more attractive for employees as time goes on, becoming one of the key things potential employees consider when weighing their opportunities, the study found. While sophisticated technology is the top draw, the digital capabilities of their managers comes in at a close second, Steecker said.
Employees want to make sure they “don't need to do all of the explanation and sort of treat them with kid gloves,” he said. “They want to have serious conversations about the work that they're doing with their managers and that's pretty crucial in terms of retaining and engaging the staff.”
Keeping pace with finance employees is only going to become more crucial as AI and automation continue to develop. By 2026, 50% of all new employees hired by top corporate finance functions will have backgrounds outside of finance or accounting due to AI and automation, predicted Gartner.
While lawmakers and executives alike are intrigued by AI’s potential, many are also wary of the risks the technology could pose, both to existing business models and workers. Prominent voices in the technology space — including Elon Musk, who co-founded ChatGPT creator OpenAI — called for a halt in the training of advanced AI systems in an open letter published Wednesday by the Future of Life Institute, Industry Dive sister publication CIO Dive reported.
The letter, signed by over 1,100 technology and AI experts, such as Musk as well as former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, urges AI labs to take a six-month pause on training new systems in order to better assess the risks they potentially cause, and notes governments should step in if necessary to enact such a pause.
The forward advance of AI is “certainly part” of why upskilling their digital talents now should be top of mind for finance leaders, Steecker said; those who fail to gain those digital skills could be left behind as the finance function changes. A February study by Gartner found 40% of finance roles could be completely new or reshaped by 2025 due to finance chiefs’ efforts to reach a stage of “autonomous finance” where such tools are put to use.
As digital and tech skills come under scrutiny, there are several steps CFOs and other senior finance leaders can take in order to boost their knowledge in these key areas, including setting up and taking part in “reverse mentorship” programs between “more digitally savvy staff and less digitally savvy managers” Steecker said.
Having leaders at the executive level such as CFOs or heads of financial planning and analysis both establish and participate in digital education or training sessions can also be a way to help boost digital competency at one’s organization, he said.
“There's good in that, in actually developing the skills but also the visibility of showing that there's a cultural shift and that everyone's participating from top to bottom,” he said.