Finance people must be futurists. This is not as radical as it might sound after listening to remarks from Amy Webb, CEO, Future Today Institute and Quantitative Futurist at IMA’s 2021 Annual Conference & Expo. Her keynote, delivered virtually, offered finance professionals an inside look at what futurists do, namely how they listen to signals (both weak and strong), identify trends, analyze data, and map out scenarios. Finance people who think like futurists can engage in more impactful strategic planning and risk management, anticipating and preparing for what is next before it happens.

COVID made the value of anticipatory thinking manifest, as CFOs shifted priorities; in many cases moving the health and wellbeing of their employees to the top of their priority list. This was followed by business continuity and cash-flow concerns. A recent Strategic Finance article shared the perspectives of six CFOs and how COVID taught them lessons in agility and adaptability. Omar Choucair, CFO of Trintech, said the following:

“Coming out of the gate, the office of the CFO was the nerve center for all the strategic planning, and the number and the frequency of financial models and financial questions exploded,” he said. “It put a tremendous amount of strain and [additional] work on the office of the CFO—and whether you’re looking at liquidity, debt covenants, supply chains, or capital spend, all those got thrown for a loop.”

Indeed, COVID turned the world upside down, and necessitated the complete re-evaluation of core beliefs about accounting and finance work like:

  • Can key accounting and finance processes like the financial close be done by a remote workforce?
  • What are the steps finance should be taking to enhance data security?
  • What role, if any, does a physical office play in the nature of accounting and finance work?
  • How has COVID accelerated the need for digital transformation and what will accounting and finance professionals do to keep up? 
  • Does this transformation necessitate a recommitment to ethics in a digital age?

Futurists like Webb contend the assumptions we have made in the past about work, how we do it, and how we learn new skills, must be questioned. At IMA Raef Lawson, vice president of research and policy, attempted to do that with recent studies like, “The Impact of COVID-19 on The Finance Function.” A key finding of this study is that, “There is significant concern as to whether current professional skills will still be relevant in the post-COVID-19 era. Most survey respondents are working on improving their skills, or planning to do so, across a wide range of domains.”

These domains can include both the technical and non-technical. Deloitte Insights’ “Future of Work” series coined a new term for the marriage of technical and non-technical skills, “STEM-pathetic.” These are people who possess the technology skills encompassing the fields of data analytics, AI, or machine learning, but who also possess “cognitive social skills, such as connecting with other people and communicating effectively.” Deloitte notes, “more than 30 percent of high-paying new jobs will likely be social and essentially human in nature.” 

The combination of hard and soft skills outlined in the Deloitte research can be difficult to secure. IMA members now enjoy exclusive discounts on CPE subscription packages from Kaplan to take advantage of on-demand learning, live webinars, and nano courses. IMA also offers a host of webinars, live and virtual events, podcasts, career resources, and online courses designed to cultivate this dual skill set which is attractive to employers. Additionally, IMA volunteer opportunities offer anyone the chance to hone the soft skills of leadership. 

As Amy Webb made clear in her ACE session, the future contains many unknowns. But the need to upskill is not one of them. Whether you are in the early stages of your career, or a seasoned professional, you need to keep your eye on the future, recognize trends early, and develop the skills employers value most. You too can become a futurist. 


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