New research from American Express finds that over half of UK finance leaders (55per cent) 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 (56per cent) saying that these skill sets will become more important over the next 2-5 years. One third (33per cent) agreed that better digital skills are key to improving the running of the finance function. The research found three quarters (74per cent) 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 (85per cent) of respondents believe more accurate forecasting is critical to success; almost two-fifths (38per cent) 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 (36per cent), followed by strategic planning and financial analysis (34per cent). Taking these factors into consideration, over eight in 10 (83per cent) 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 (88per cent) feeling confident their team can respond well to unexpected events.

“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,” said Stacey Sterbenz, general manager, UK Commercial at American Express. “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.”

A new American Express whitepaper unpacks further insights on the priorities of finance leaders and how they view the performance of their function, along with the growing influence Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is playing when it comes to spending decisions.

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