Member Insight: Disruption and Connection

FEI Daily Managing Editor Olivia Berkman recently sat down with FEI Member Heather Dixon to discuss the impact of technology in her role as Vice President and Assistant Controller at health insurer Aetna. Disruption and change management are major themes at FEI's Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference (CFRI) this November.

An edited transcript of the discussion is shown below the video.

Oliva Berkman: Heather, what do you consider to be the strongest disruptive forces in finance today?
Heather Dixon: I think technology is clearly a strong disruptive force and that’s the way that we're using it internally. But I think a knock-on effect of technology is data, and the availability of data.
We have an abundance of information to use, to analyze and to do our jobs better. We have access to information almost real time in many instances. I think that's a big disruptive force for us in a new way. Also, talent capability, and how we're using our talent and our resources in finance to do more, or something different than what they've done previously, is a big change in the way that we do things.
Berkman: You mentioned the abundance of data, how do you think that could affect standard setting?
Dixon: I think the standard setters have already begun to think about how the availability of information, from a technological perspective, can change the lens that we use to apply standards. In the past, whenever a standard would come out, we often used a materiality lens, or certainly a stratifying strategy, to implement the standard. These days we have the ability in many cases to get 100% of the population to apply that standard using the data that's available.
Berkman: How will the next generation of accounting professionals differ from today's workforce?
Dixon: I think they'll look very different. I think finance professionals are required to use information in a different way. I think they're looking to be analytical instead of transactional, and so the things that they need to do, just as a basic way to do their job, have transformed, and I think they'll continue to transform.
The talent of today is also looking for a very well rounded experience, and that's what we're looking for them to have as well. They want to have a different perspective, and many angles on any piece of information, or any part of their job that they do. It's up to us to provide that opportunity, to develop them in that way.
I think that the talent of today is focused on, not just doing their job, but on what their job is personally contributing to the company. Further, they want to know what the company is contributing to the community that they operate in.
Berkman: is it important for finance leaders to connect with their peers?
Dixon: I think this is incredibly important.
At its base level, accounting rules and regulations exist so that we can have consistency in how we apply standards to make financial recording better. One of the ways that you can make sure that everyone is interpreting those standards and regulations in a consistent way is to share information, and look at the amount of judgment that's applied in those accounting principles, and try to narrow in and share information, and get back to that goal of providing consistent information.
And I think it's just multiplying your experience. We all say we learn the best from our experiences, and the more people you can share with and learn from, the more experience you can benefit from.