The demands of finance professionals today and your executive education

Senior finance professionals often turn to executive education to develop new insights, gain exposure to other industries and environments, and to benchmark their own approaches against classroom colleagues. But what are the most in-demand training topics and skill-sets in the finance industry today? Here are four key areas in which finance practitioners commonly seek out further education at business schools.

Specialised finance

Project finance, capital allocation and the latest advances in asset management are garnering increasingly higher interest from finance professionals, according to Sabine Vinck, Associate Dean of Executive Education at London Business School. She attributes the shift to finance professionals “wanting to be exposed to the latest thinking to stay ahead of the curve.” That, along with increased availability of basic online resources, would explain the simultaneous dip in demand Vinck has observed over recent years for programmes covering the fundamentals of finance.

Adaptation to evolving technologies

Fast-paced changes in the way the finance industry operates are creating a need for training that enables managers and organisations to adapt. “More and more bank customers now process their affairs online, and processes in general are undergoing digitalisation,” says Sonja Thiemann, Head of the Competence Centre Management, Leadership and Strategy at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. “As a result, financial organisations need help to streamline their branches and internal hierarchies. Banking institutions and staff are asking us to support necessary changes by advocating new approaches to transformational leadership, lean management and digitalisation.”

Strategic thinking

73 per cent of organisations surveyed in Accenture Strategy’s 2014 High Performance Finance Study indicated that the CFO’s influence in strategic decision-making has increased in the past two years. “There is a greater focus on how finance functions can operate as more effective business partners,” explained Vinck. That explains why strategy is one of numerous general skill gaps that finance professionals are turning to executive education to fill, which brings us to the final in-demand skill set for senior finance professionals:

Cross-functional communication

Today, the role of a CFO is more public-facing than ever, and senior finance executives need to be able to communicate effectively with a highly diverse set of stakeholders. This ability does not come naturally to all. In a recent CFO.com survey, “communicating with other groups” was most frequently cited as the skill currently most lacking among finance and accounting professionals. Outside audiences have a tendency to perceive finance issues and initiatives as arcane or overly complex – or, at worst, irrelevant. That makes it critical for finance officers to be able to communicate why they’re doing something, what the ultimate goal is – and how that impacts the entire organisation.

While our overview of training trends for your industry may prove helpful, it’s equally important to take a careful look at the unique challenges confronting your own company and you personally before choosing your executive education programme. Whether you want to develop specific technical finance competency, change-management insights, big-picture thinking, interpersonal communication skills, or something else entirely, let your goals ultimately drive your choice of school and programme for your executive education in finance.