There was once a time when the rapid march of technology was a concern only for the IT function. But in the era of digital transformation, no function is safe from change.
For finance, digital transformation doesn’t only mean comprehending the transformation of the organization as a whole, but also grappling with how technology is transforming finance itself.
Amid this period of change, the role of the CFO endures. But what exactly will that role look like once the finance function and the organization it supports have been fundamentally transformed?
Marina Trusa has spent her recent years grappling with the impact of technology on finance from inside technology-driven organizations, including Oracle and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), and now as the general manager of finance at the international currency transfer provider OFX (formerly, OzForex).
She says working at an a high-growth, digitally oriented company gives her the opportunity to design a true technology-driven finance function. And it has led her to rethink some of the fundamentals of the function offers.
“Historically, finance was always seen more as compliance and accounting,” Trusa says. “And that still has a place – having control and statutory reporting is of paramount importance. But more and more, I see finance leaders now being appointed who come from a background of decision support and with a much more commercial stance.”
Hence she sees her own role as understanding not just the business itself and how it makes money, but how to put the right tools in place to predict those behaviors for business cases or investment development. It is a topic she will be speaking on at the inaugural Finance Innovation and Tech Fest taking place in Sydney on September 11 and 12, 2017.
“For this, I have to understand the historical behaviors of our customers and their drivers, the costs linked to that, the macro elements, and then model all of this and be able to advise,” Trusa says.
“And that is all part of the finance function. So it is less and less about somebody just inputting the data and just crunching numbers. A lot of software can do that for you. It is all about how you interpret information, and how you can draw the insights that the management can go and act on.”
For example, knowing how much it costs to acquire a customer is simply a precursor to asking whether that money was worth spending. That requires an understanding of predictive analytics to determine how much that customer is going to generate in the future.
And that means having a fundamental appreciation of technology.
Hence Trusa has taken an active interest in her organization’s IT infrastructure and architecture, including how data is captured.
“So yes, I am general manager of finance,” she says. “But the role is a mix of strategy, finance, and data analytics, with IT and digital as well.
“This is behavioral, but it is also technical. When I do development plans with the teams, there are very specific things that they need to be learning and training in.”
Training the next generation
Trusa is living this transformation firsthand, and she believes it is not being fully taught to the next generation. Hence, she and two collaborators are developing a unit for the University of Sydney business school’s Master of Management course on how technology is transforming all roles across the business, including the finance function.
“Before I joined CBA, I underestimated the extent to which I would need to be across the IT element of technology,” Trusa says. “And even now, with the prevalence of Tableau and all of the tools finance is using, it is only now that the universities and the educators are catching up with this.”
One of the concepts behind the unit is to think about the skills that someone will need to be relevant in finance in the next five years, and how to build resilience into systems that increases the business’ competitive advantage and allows it to operate in an agile environment.
“It was not something I read in a book that told me I really had to understand data and analytics tools or understand how architects are going to be building and structuring the data so that you can answer business-related questions,” Trusa says. “With the students, they need to be thinking about it now, because when they come into the finance function in the next two to three years, a lot of things will be automated.”
Trusa is keen to reassure prospective students that her course won’t involve a deep dive into technical concepts such as architecture. Rather, it will build on fundamental concepts, such as systems and product development and how ideas are prototyped, as well as concepts around data and analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain, and machine learning. It will also examine how roles within the business are changing and being disrupted and how communications are changing.
“The whole idea of the course will be showing how IT became a part of the everyday life that we can’t ignore,” Trusa says. “IT is reflective of every element of the business nowadays. It not only defines competitiveness; it defines the efficiency of your support functions, it defines the product you are developing, and it also defines agility.”
Beyond the technical skill set
Agility also applies to the mindsets of the people she wants to hire into OFX. While an accounting or finance degree remains vital, there are other attributes, such as flexibility, lateral thinking, and problem-solving, that are rising in importance.
“The type of people I hire in the finance function is very critical, because they have to be able to not only easily respond to changing business demands, but also to be able to learn pretty quickly on the go,” Trusa says. “You can learn this – it is not something that is unattainable.”
Her thinking is directly reflected in the changes Trusa is implementing now within OFX, including investments in automation to reduce reliance on manual work.
“So there will be minimal number-crunching and data entries, there will be hardly any Excel,” Trusa says. “And the reason is to not only help the business to run and understand cost. It is all about me partnering with the business and advising the CEO to say, ‘these are the options you have, these are the levers you can pull in certain market scenarios, and if you tweak a few things, this is how you will be ready.”
“And without automating things and doing it in the software, there is no way to do that. That is the new role of finance.”
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