Research from American Express finds that over half of UK finance leaders (55%) expect to increase their team’s headcount in the coming years, but the skills and capabilities they are seeking are evolving, in line with a desire to improve the finance function’s efficiency and performance.

The research, based on a survey of senior finance decision makers at larger UK businesses, uncovered a focus on improving their finance team’s data and digital capabilities, with more than half (56%) saying that these skill sets will become more important over the next 2-5 years. One third (33%) agreed that better digital skills are key to improving the running of the finance function. The research found three quarters (74%) of UK finance leaders feel it is getting harder to find and recruit the right talent, suggesting that resourcing challenges may lie ahead.

When it comes to improving the finance function’s performance, the survey found that a majority (85%) of respondents believe more accurate forecasting is critical to success; almost two-fifths (38%) cited this as the activity which takes up most of their time and resource. ‘Reporting and control’ was ranked the second most time-consuming activity (36%), followed by strategic planning and financial analysis (34%). Taking these factors into consideration, over eight in 10 (83%) respondents said access to better quality data was vital to bolstering their finance function’s organisational impact.

Despite these challenges and against the backdrop of a challenging economy, finance leaders are still upbeat about their performance and resilience, with an overwhelming majority (88%) feeling confident their team can respond well to unexpected events.

American Express’ UK Commercial general manager, Stacey Sterbenz, commented: “With calls from finance leaders for greater digital and analytical skills to interpret and act on organisational data, it’s clear that the finance function is evolving in response to new challenges. As a result, the importance of having the right business partners in place has never been greater; those who can make sense of complex data and how it relates to a changing and complex external landscape, will be better positioned for ongoing success.”

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