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Business Alumni Network

Finance: Another role, or a way of thinking?

Marina Trusa

Marina Trusa, General Manager Finance at OFX, unpacks how the rise of innovation and technology has fundamentally changed finance as a profession.

Written by Marina Trusa (MCom ’10)
General Manager Finance, OFX
Deputy President, Business Alumni Network, The University of Sydney Business School

When students tell me they’d like to work in finance and ask me what it takes to be successful, I always feel a bit surprised, for two main reasons.

Firstly, finance is like an ocean – it cannot be defined by one specific role or function. It is a waterbody that creates an ecosystem for corals, fish, shipwrecks and so on. It is everywhere, and it serves different functions at different levels. If you’re thinking about a finance role, think about the full value chain of businesses from end to end, and how finance is facilitating it.

Secondly, the same rule applies when someone is keen to be successful in finance. It goes far beyond numbers – numbers are simply the tools used to tell the story if the right questions are asked, and mean nothing in isolation. Once you can tell the story of a business using numbers, truly understanding the drivers behind them, then you can really start to become a storyteller for the business, defining the direction in which the business should go.

The rise of innovation and technology in finance poses a very interesting question for finance as a profession. If technology can take away data processing and give us automated accounting, creating self-service individual P&Ls for business leads and even performing robo-trading based on algorithms, then what skillset is required for future finance leaders? Needless to say, accounting, statutory reporting and compliance still have a place, and similar logic applies as with the technology of self-driving cars: to what extent can we entrust these functions to automated processing and when should they require human intervention and override?

If I could summarise the top required skills set in finance, it would be:

  1. The ability to deal with ambiguity and draw conclusions with limited sets of information – which is quite difficult for the kind of precise, detail-driven mindsets attracted to finance
  2. The ability to anticipate the future direction of the business and provide a set of realistic scenarios and levers that could be triggered to change the business’s course in a timely manner
  3. The ability to ask the right questions and choose sustainable and agile tech solutions to automate the back end.

As you’ve probably noticed, none of these could be replicated by machines, and all of them involve intimate realistic business understanding amid a lot of uncertainty.

So is finance a role or the way of thinking? It is absolutely the latter. That’s why you see so many CFOs transitioning into P&L ownership and CEO roles – because these two are so close and go hand in hand. In finance you have to think as a business owner and be a storyteller using numbers as your tools. And of course you must have a vision, because nothing is possible without that.