Automation, Simulation, And Talent Management For Finance

Tony Klimas

Part 4 in the 4-part “SAP Finance and EY Talk” series by Tony Klimas of EY and Joel Bernstein of SAP

When I graduated from business school, my first job was managing accounts payable at a U.S.-based shared services center for a large manufacturing company. This was an entry-level, management-track position — and it was a great experience. Not only did I learn the ropes at the most basic level, but I also made some good contacts and started thinking about where I wanted to go next. These positions are necessary for developing talent in finance, and this first job set me up for success later on in my career.

The reality today is that many of these entry-level jobs in finance and other business functions are being automated. In financial services, such automation is not only a story about robotics, but also “machine learning” — and machine learning isn’t so much about machines as it is about pattern recognition and business process optimization.

Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, is the process of using sophisticated algorithms to train systems to “learn” from massive volumes of data — rather than performing rote tasks programmatically. In finance, machine learning can be used across a wide range of areas. These include optimizing credit assessments, detecting and preventing fraud, improving compliance — the list goes on. The question is: what does this mean for traditional career paths in finance?

The uses of simulation

I believe one potential development is the new finance employees just out of school spending some of their first year working with business simulation tools to replace real-world experience that is no longer possible. New hires are often not fully prepared to take on more advanced positions in finance without first spending some time in the “trenches” — so one option might be simulation tools that teach them the business before they move into more hands-on roles?

Fortunately, young professionals in finance can learn a lot from simulation tools because they’re increasingly sophisticated and based on detailed competency models and career paths. At EY, we’ve worked hard to develop specific technology to help our clients meet their training and staffing goals by understanding the various competency models required, and the potential skill gaps that might exist in the current state of the organization. This helps our clients address immediate issues related to talent, but also allows them a more strategic view to prepare more effectively for what’s coming.

Getting out more

What’s coming, of course, is the need for greater agility to help keep pace with the demand for innovation. To help finance organizations prepare for this, simulation technology, competency models, and skills assessment can be helpful for people at every stage of their careers — and this doesn’t necessarily mean sitting behind the desk.

This point, certainly, is not lost on my colleague Joel Bernstein, CFO of Global Customer Operations at SAP. I recently spoke with Joel about his own internal efforts with digital transformation within the finance team at SAP.

“In many ways,” Joel said, “what we’re trying to do is drive a mind-shift where instead of doing a job or managing a process, our people are asking first and foremost: ‘What can I do to help the business succeed?’ This requires getting out, talking to people, figuring out what’s needed, creating data, running analyses, and impacting change.”

To help his team get there, Joel’s transformation efforts have included “simulation events” of sorts. These are workshops where people from across the global finance team gather to run simulations in a group context that highlight issues and help zero in on solutions. At the end of the training, teams actually present their solutions to business leaders.

The advantages of this program run at multiple levels. For SAP as a business, it helps to facilitate innovation. For employees, it exposes them to non-finance business colleagues and helps them to better understand how to serve and interact with the business. And for the finance team at SAP, it helps create a pipeline of valuable talent, while generating for the team a reputation as an agent of transformation.

So, for CFOs and other finance professionals who might be reading this: Think about the changes impacting your workforce and how you will be creative in making sure your people have what they need to help your businesses succeed in a digital economy that requires all of us to be at the top of our game.

To learn more about why CFOs need to facilitate innovation by building top-notch teams, take a look at this animated infographic and the Agile Finance 2.0 white paper.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

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Tony Klimas

About Tony Klimas

Tony Klimas, global finance performance improvement leader with EY, LLP, is a member of EY’s Advisory Executive team with global responsibility for the Finance consulting practice. He is an experienced consultant with 20+ years of experience across a variety of industries. His areas of expertise include finance strategy and transformation, shared services/offshoring, and BPO advisory. Tony also has significant experience with finance and accounting systems and has traveled and worked extensively in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. He spent most of his consulting career in the Southeast U.S. before moving to the greater New York City area in 2009.