“The new junior executives that arrive in our company are expecting things to happen much faster.” That’s according to Bruno Passos Spínola Ribeiro, Manager for Corporate Treasury / Trading Desk at the Brazilian steel producer Gerdau. Adds Bill Juram, VP-Finance for the healthcare services provider Kaiser Permanente, “I think Millennials have a less hierarchical, more trial-and-error style of work,” which makes them particularly well suited to adapting to a more complex, faster-moving, and far less structured digital world.
These trends were core findings of a recent CFO Research study, based on a survey of 1,544 finance professionals around the globe. Sponsored by SAP, the study sought to gain a better understanding of the outlook for the finance function and what finance professionals see as the key enablers of their future success.
The survey found that finance professionals believe their companies must bring enterprise IT up to the standards that consumer IT—smartphones, tablets, etc.—has established for speed, flexibility, and ease of use. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of survey respondents believe that their companies will be pressured to bring enterprise information systems in line with personal technologies in order to meet the future challenge of attracting and retaining top finance talent. The study’s in-depth interviews with finance executives provided further clarity on this topic.
Reinhard Loose, CFO of the German financial services company MLP, calls the new generation “digital natives.” As he says, “For them it’s normal, having better IT equipment than people had ten years ago.” As Ryan O’Neal, Senior Financial Consultant for Kaiser Permanente, puts it, “For the next generation, they’ll access anything on their phone, and people want things in real time. … They’ll be less forgiving of the big bulky systems that we have today if they’re not as intuitive as the apps that are delivered to your mobile phone.”
Alejandro Scannapieco, CFO of the Argentina-headquartered software company Globant, agrees. “This new generation lives and dies with technology,” he says. “It’s embedded with them—every single day it needs to be more proactive and more automated.” Scannapieco explains that the next generation will need this technology in order to successfully manage a more complex world. Because of globalization, he says, finance teams “have access to many different resources that they didn’t have in the past—different tools, different benchmarks, and different companies.” This wealth of information creates “the expectation that you are able to build on that and be more innovative—create more added value on top of what’s already [been done].”
But information and innovation does a company little good unless it can be used to influence decisions and guide the business forward. This is one of the more powerful byproducts of the ease with which a new generation adapts to a vastly expanded universe of information. Francisco Peres, an economist for the global mining firm Vale, sums up his vision for the future of finance: “We will use a great many tools that transform our day in a faster way to have information. So we need people that can open their minds and have a straight path to the future.” In the end, Peres concludes, “Finance needs this kind of person, who understands not only about finance but also about the entire company strategy and business environment—one who can lead the company to another way.”