More than tech: Why finance transformations should start with people first

How can businesses modernize their finance operations? By taking a human-led, tech-powered approach to transformation. Consider this an opportunity for your company to build a modern finance workforce—one that can be a strategic business partner rather than simply a financial steward.

To get there, you’ll need to reimagine roles, reskill staff and prioritize data analytics. The benefits are clear: In our experience working with clients, we’ve seen that companies that bolster their workforce, hone analytical capabilities and turn finance into a strategic business partner are better able to drive transformative results across their organization and core leadership teams.

68% of CFOs are investing in digital transformation over the next 12 months, including in technologies like cloud and analytics.

Source: PwC US Pulse Survey - CFO, August 19, 2021

A human-led, tech-powered approach to finance transformation

While investment in technology continues to be a critical component of modernizing the finance function, finance leaders believe five of the six top steps hinge on people:

Improve technology
Improve communications protocols
Improve collaboration
Upgrade skills
Improve interactions and relationships
Clarify roles and decision rights

Source: PwC 2021 Finance Effectiveness Benchmarking Study

Upskill, reskill and future-proof your finance talent

As the finance function continues to evolve, business leaders recognize that they’ll need a workforce with new skills in order to meet new demands. Leading finance organizations are investing more in finance upskilling and reskilling. They’re investing at least three times more in upskilling programs than the median and nearly twice the number of the hours. These organizations are creating—and iterating on—a workforce transformation roadmap to support productivity, innovation and growth-enhancing tech investments.  

The reskilling programs that leading organizations have put in place are not just check-the-box activities. These businesses are anticipating the skills they may need for the future, laying a new cultural foundation for their company and delivering modern upskilling programs. They’re also assessing their workforce’s current skills and designing an “always-on” learning environment, in which employees are encouraged to share new capabilities and apply what others are doing to their own work, contributing to their finance-transformation-related outcomes.

Technical upskilling is important, of course, but investments that improve non-technical capabilities are just as critical. Traditionally, finance success meant “reporting out” numbers with limited analysis. Now, additional competencies are needed, including data-driven storytelling, communication, collaboration, adaptability and innovation. To be effective, finance leaders should deeply understand their business so they can use data to tell a compelling story.   

Upskilling investments pay off in other ways, as well. Firms that invest heavily in upskilling have 27% lower turnover than organizations that do not invest as heavily, according to PwC’s 2021 Finance Effectiveness Benchmarking Study. This means lower replacement costs, less drag on productivity and less time required for retraining. In addition, tailored learning programs grow higher-performing, more stable teams and expand the capabilities of employees in anticipating and addressing the changing needs of the business.

Actions companies can take:

  • On-the-job learning: Rotational apprenticeship programs and shadow opportunities give people the opportunity to demonstrate underused skills and offer hands-on experience in technical and analytical skills. By integrating finance into the business, embedded business partners can bring insights that result in improved reporting design and impactful storytelling.
  • Use the right learning technology platform: Many of today’s learning technology platforms let businesses create personalized learning pathways that can be tailored to the unique growth opportunities of your people. For example, ProEdge, a PwC product, allows you to inspire continuous learning and close digital skill gaps around data analysis, data visualization, robotic process automation (RPA) and design thinking.
  • Redeploy: Recognize that not everyone is going to be able to make the shift from a data analyst to a strategic advisor. Help find new roles for the employees who aren’t able to make the change, where their skills are a better fit, so you can bring in new team members who will challenge the status quo.

Unlock the power of your people

73% of employees say they know of systems or technology that would help them produce higher-quality work.

Source: PwC 24th Annual Global CEO Survey

Most finance organizations have made significant investments in technology, but many have failed to capitalize on their tech’s full potential. Why? Because they’re not tapping into the full potential of their people. Firms that maximize their investments can connect the right technology to new ways of working. Some, for example, pair macro investments in technology infrastructure with employee crowd-sourcing, also known as citizen-led innovation, to give individuals the autonomy to apply their learning to their work in real-time. The result? Work feels meaningful and relevant, which leads to greater efficiencies from automation activities. Your staff can then spend more time focusing on the higher-value work that connects them to the purpose and goals of the business.

Continued automation can free up people’s time, but it’s important to consider how you can help your employees do their jobs differently. Here are four ideas:

  1. Empower your people: Employees in core roles, such as financial analysts and accounting managers, are stretching their problem-solving skills. Empower them to identify business pain points and learn to create automations that can improve their own cycle times.
  2. Make it easier for people to be productive: Use workflow automation tools, digital social hubs and chat tools to modernize the workplace and create efficiencies.
  3. Flatten organizational silos: Recognize the effects of spans and layers on individual work habits, organizational culture and employee trust and collaboration.
  4. Create capacity: Often, the highest-potential employees are also those most frequently called upon for transformation initiatives—leaving them saddled with learning, innovating and driving change within the business, and subsequently making them more likely to burn out. Proactively partner with the employees you’d like to drive new ways of working to create capacity for learning and transformation. 

Opportunities to automate across the finance function:

Percentage of FTE time spent doing work that could be automated

Management reporting
Tax accounting and compliance
General accounting
Credit management
Cash disbursements (AP and T&E)
Customer billing
Financial/external reporting
Budgeting and forecasting
Business analysis

Source: PwC 2021 Finance Effectiveness Benchmarking Study

Establish finance as a strategic business partner

In a recent PwC Pulse Survey, CFOs ranked establishing finance as a business partner across the enterprise as a top priority. They recognize that finance is uniquely qualified to take part in strategy, far beyond the tactical applications of the finance function. Getting to that place requires not only investments in training and technology, but reimagining the essential competencies of the finance team. Successful CFOs should evaluate their function in the same way a general manager might build a well-rounded athletic team. They’re looking at not only technical acumen, but creating a team with roles that prioritize key leadership and business capabilities. This approach results in more effective business partnering and a stronger overall function that’s flexible, mobile and has a higher impact on the business.

Business and finance leaders generally agree on the top 10 areas of importance for the finance function, but there’s one area—capabilities—that they all say needs improvement. Finance doesn’t have the right capabilities to efficiently provide the insights companies need to support their direction and vision. This discrepancy may offer an opportunity for your company’s finance leaders to focus on key areas of their transformation roadmap and on building the skills within your workforce to deliver better business insight and value.

How it’s getting done

Bring your team into the future: Assess roles and competencies to determine the future size and scale of your finance organization.

Develop the right expertise: Enable your people to have both finance and operational expertise. Create hybrid roles with ownership of certain end-to-end business processes and/or metrics.

The bottom line

Based on our observations, companies that embrace upskilling and focus on their people appear to be more productive, collaborative and innovative than the ones that don’t. While modernizing your finance function takes work, businesses that take time for a more human-led and tech-powered approach to transformation can see the benefits of that investment. Now is the time for your business to reimagine the way it works and invest in building the skills you need to thrive.

Benchmark data creation

PwC has exercised reasonable care in the collecting, processing and reporting of this information but has not independently verified, validated or audited the data to verify the accuracy or completeness of the information. PwC gives no express or implied warranties, including but not limited to any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose or use and shall not be liable to any entity or person using this document, or have any liability with respect to this document. This report is for general purposes only, and is not a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

Contact us

Christopher Dimuzio

Principal, Finance Transformation, PwC US


Ed Shapiro

Director of Finance Effectiveness, PwC US


Kurtis Babczenko

Finance Transformation Leader, New York, PwC US


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