Nine out of 10 finance executives want to lead a truly innovative project, and most are prepared to shift jobs for the opportunity, according to a survey conducted by FSN for BOARD.
The survey covered 1037 senior finance professionals from across the globe, including New Zealand.
The survey finds finance functions vary in their commitment to innovation.
Though it is seen as broadly desirable, few afford their people the remit or resources to innovate effectively.
Currently, only 34 per cent of organisations surveyed identify as being committed to innovation.
Out of this figure, 23 per cent participate in innovation work outside of the finance function.
For the remainder, innovation occurs within finance only. That often leads to outcomes that improve finance processes or performance, but have little visibility in the broader organisation.
The target state for finance is to be seen as a “true innovator” that is able to strike an appropriate balance on the projects that it invests resources and energy into.
“True innovators are those finance functions that are early adopters of technology, have an active culture of innovation, make time for it, reward innovation and play an active role in innovation across the entire enterprise,” says Mark Sands, general manager Asia Pacific, BOARD International.
CFOs and senior finance executives say lack of technology- savvy talent in the finance function is an obstacle to innovation
“These are CFOs and finance executives who have stepped out from behind the finance desk to take an active role in innovation across the enterprise, not just within their own sphere of influence.”
Organisations with a balanced approach to innovation were least likely to be encumbered by legacy technology, modes of operation or ways of thinking, the study states.
Only 44 per cent of balanced investors were worried that too many of their resources were tied up with legacy systems and traditional ways of working.
By comparison, between 73 per cent and 81 per cent of other organisations were worried about the impact of legacy systems and thinking.
“The implication is that balanced technology investors are already addressing legacy systems, recognising the limitations of both front and back office processes, and implementing the right technology to improve the efficacy of their resources,” says Sands.
Past surveys have executives are often unable to pursue finance process improvements or organisation-wide innovation because they have no time.
Unfortunately, the only way to free up time is to implement innovative improvements into their finance function, which they don’t have time to focus on, the survey notes.
The survey finds there is ready technology available to meet all of these finance innovation needs, but in almost half of cases, there is a problem with finding the right people.
Nearly half (45 per cent) of CFOs and senior finance executives cited a lack of technology-savvy talent in the finance function as an obstacle to innovation.
Executives, meanwhile, seem comfortable with at least some of the insight-driving technologies, most notably data visualisation where 59 per cent are either knowledgeable or very knowledgeable, as well as predictive analytics, which was understood by 45 per cent of respondents.
Where they struggle is with the newer technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence and accounting robots, which are widely touted but not Well-understood, it states.
“These technologies may offer the greatest transformative potential but CFOs are yet to grasp how they could directly aid their finance function,” it adds.
“Blockchain and cryptocurrency languished below the knowledge line for most finance executives, and this will likely only change when the definitive application of this technology becomes more mainstream.”
The study points out there is clearly a need for innovation in the finance function, most urgently to generate business insights, but also ensure management information is robust enough to make well-informed decisions.
“Finance executives appear most knowledgeable about technology that can help them gain this insight, now it is a matter of finding the resources to invest in them.”
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