Each year Finance on a Mission, a partnership between multiple leading financial institutions in the Netherlands, publishes a report on progress made and challenges faced in the financial sector. This year’s report was co-authored by the team at Agium, and we caught up with the firm’s founding director, Robbert van Adrichem. He told us about the surprises and takeaways of this year’s report.

What strikes you most about this years report?

For one thing, it’s clear that people in Finance often have a different idea about their contributions than people in other departments! For example, in our results we saw that sometimes we have an unrealistic view of how well the final customer is served, or of a business’s market-orientation, compared to other departments.

The research provides an important insight into how we can position ourselves within organizations moving forward. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that stakeholders feel we dominate decision-making processes. But what’s changing is the orientation of competencies within tech and data, which increasingly shape the way business is done. In order to remain an active partner, Finance needs to keep pace with other departments in order to maintain our seat at the table.

How do you think Finance teams should go about closing the perception gap between Finance and the rest of the business?

 Our conclusion is that Finance needs to align more proactively with business and general management on shared priorities. And our approach is informed by two major conclusions drawn from the research:

  1. A Finance team’s communication skills play a big role in financial strength.

As the results of this study show, Finance must act as a partner and maintain open lines of communication. Achieving this means alignment in terms of vision, and a mutual understanding of both the customer and market-orientation.

  1. Expectations are constantly increasing.

Expectations are high when it comes to delivering in light of increased diversification, and constant developments in tech and data competencies. Finance has to remain committed to upscaling on soft skills to keep pace.

Currently, other departments score Finance low in these areas, and implementing change is no small task. It involves finding the right tools, people and tech skills needed at the right time. At the end of the day, setting priorities is key, as is communicating to the organization what these priorities are.

A lot of respondents name data reliability as an issue in their organizations. Why do you think this is?

This is definitely a big one, and it mostly comes down to legacy systems and the software used to store data. Outdated systems can lead to big problems when it comes to structuring and applying data.

This is a widespread issue of course, and one that lots of large companies experience through years of growth and new tech. Acquisitions also complicate things, because systems and data sets are not easily combined when companies are merged. What makes these problems difficult to solve is the expense, risk and time involved in troubleshooting them.

If money were no object, we’d just adopt new systems and convert all data. But changes like these also require new competencies and one primary source of data. They require internal focus and an incredible number of resources. So short of a complete and costly overhaul, the task of Finance – in cooperation with data and analytics teams, too – is to navigate the delicate balance between managing the old and embracing the new.

You are in the recruitment and secondment business. Has there been a change in the organization profiles you look for?

 Yes. With rapid changes in tech and data, adaptation remains key. These days, organizations really value young people for their tech skills, their energy and the way they embrace and thrive under lightning-fast change.

For this reason, we continuously adapt our training programs, revise and update our learning skills and ensure that everyone we employ follows a tailored development program. These programs are shaped by customer expectations and industry standards. What this year’s report shows us is that respondents in Finance are aware of the need to update hard and soft skills across the board. Tech, data and communication – these are the biggest drivers of change. And it’s up to us to listen and respond.

Stephan Covey put it best when he said: ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ In Finance, we’ve got to do things differently.

Read Finance with a Mission’s full 2021 report, ‘Finance in the digital era: Customer-driven Finance’ here.