Automation is one of the most important factors to consider when planning for a company’s future; deciding what parts could and should be undertaken by robots to make sure that the organization is run as smoothly and cost-efficient as possible. Looking more closely at the finance sector the need for accountants is already decreasing as a result of automation, according to a World Economic Forum Report from 2018 on “The Future of Jobs”. However, automation does not replace the need for people, rather it frees their time to focus on tasks robots have yet to conquer. A McKinsey report on the future of work from 2019 states that the traditional accountant increasingly focuses on management skills, leadership skills, strategic planning, and customer service.

Could it be that automation will result in relief from unstimulating work and higher productivity? An article published by Forbes in 2018 certainly indicates that it could, stating that “Automation results in higher efficiency and greater employee productivity”.

Beyond the activity of automating tasks lies a challenge to address the intricate web of chores that make up a day in a human’s life. In fact, uncovering what processes exist and how they need to be redesigned to function for a part robot/part human workforce, is a job of its own.

Automating tasks creates a number of temporary needs. Activities such as identifying and mapping out existing processes and systems, designing automation processes, and training staff to be sufficient in automatization tools are central to meet the temporary needs. A partly automated organization also presents a new set of requirements for the part that is human and which in turn affects how organizations recruit.

Adaptability and learnability
Businesses need to adopt new technologies as they become available and attract talent with an appetite to review, implement, and manage them. Continuous upskilling and education are needed to stay at the forefront. Businesses also need to adapt to future trends to be able to meet the changes in customer preferences, which often brings about changes to the business model and further increases the need of learnability. Thus, recruiting an adaptable and learnable workforce who enjoys personal growth is crucial. People within the finance function need to possess skills complementary to machines, as well as being able to update and reinforce their competencies to adapt to an accelerating rate of technological development.

Technical and analytical competence
As robots are reshaping how we work, the need for humans to generate and present data will decrease. However, making sense of data and what to do with it is still very much in the realm of people. Companies should look for individuals that can master the technical solutions to retrieve data, and that have a high analytical capacity to make use of it. The combination of technical and analytical skills in the same person is quickly becoming increasingly important for the finance sector.

Creativity and logical reasoning
With an increase in automation of mundane and repetitive tasks, it is reasonable to expect that a bigger portion of a human day’s work will be spent on intellectually challenging tasks, requiring more advanced cognitive capabilities such as logical reasoning and creativity. McKinsey Global Institute (2017) forecast that personnel in the future will spend more time on the activities that machines are less capable of, such as managing people, applying expertise, and communicating with others. It is time to reevaluate the typical profile for a finance position. Administrative repetitive tasks such as accounting for transactions in the tax account, reconciliation of balance accounts, and preparation of monthly reports will no longer require personnel’s time in finance functions. The greatness of automation is the ability for personnel to focus more on the tasks that utilize creativity and emotion.

In the near future, a majority of the working-age population will be represented by Millennials, who bring an attitude shaped by the digital revolution. As automation transforms the nature of work, businesses that embrace the digital era and work with automation have an advantage in attracting talent, especially millennials, to the workforce.

In summary
The increase in automation means that we will have to re-evaluate the competencies needed in a finance function. To succeed in an increasingly automated world, businesses need competencies that complement the strengths of robots. Thus, finance functions should consider new hires in terms of adaptability and learnability, technical and analytical competence, and creativity and logical reasoning – human traits that add value in a part human/part robot workforce.