How to take advantage of the three unstoppable forces driving change in finance

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As a CFO or senior finance professional, you might recognize that your world is changing – driven by a perfect storm, where technological and social forces are changing the rules of business in this digital era.

So how do you survive and thrive in this new world? A first step you can take is to understand the forces that are driving your finance work today. These are:

  • The digitalization of the finance industry
  • More demand for strategic decision-making
  • A younger workforce with new priorities

Let’s explore these three areas in greater detail, with practical advice to help you take advantage of these trends.

  1. The digitalization of the finance industry

According to recent research we conducted with more than 300 Canadian-based CFOs, 98% of finance professionals surveyed state that the role of the CFO has changed in the last five years, with around three quarters (76%) believing CFOs drive digital transformation in the business.

One of the biggest challenges faced by CFOs and senior finance professionals is to improve business processes in the finance department to keep pace with these changes. It’s possible to do this by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalization, to meet customer expectations and to stay relevant in an era where everything is moving rapidly.

As a CFO or senior finance professional, you’re always looking for ways to improve your department’s efficiency; data-driven insights and automation are fantastic ways to achieve this.

Automation is a reliable way of improving the quality of financial data, which can increase the productivity of your financial/accounting staff. The benefits of automation include:

  • The minimization of manual intervention in financial operations and other accounting-related tasks, such as ledger entry and reconciliations
  • Auto-population, using data from ERP and other systems
  • Reducing the potential for human error
  • Faster turnaround times
  • The improvement in the use of staff time, thanks to a reduction in manual processes

With automation, it is now possible to aggregate a vast amount of data to unlock insights.  With data-driven insights, CFOs and senior finance professionals can be strategic advisors, focusing on generating value for their organizations.

It’s also a good idea to identify which metrics you could track in real-time, as this improves the data quality and gives greater visibility into the business. Inputs uploaded in real-time, rather than in batch processes, reduce the turnaround time in completing reporting and avoids potential gaps in the financial data.

Building a culture of automation can increase your productivity thanks to fewer manual processes, fewer errors, and faster processing times. Automation encourages quicker enterprise-wide decision making while improving regulatory compliance and ensuring accurate financial statements

  1. More demand for strategic decision-making

Growing businesses often invest first in professionalizing their processes and gaining efficiency in the areas of financial management by building out the technology that ensures the success of its finance function. This has inadvertently thrust the Finance function into the limelight, with CFOs now in the hot seat of leading digital transformation for their organization.

According to our research 46% of financial decision makers say they are facing increased demand to provide overall business counsel. As a finance leader, you now have a new mandate – to move beyond the traditional role where you measure past performance to leading your business as a gatekeeper of data and analytics.

Virtually all (98%) of financial decision makers say financial management tools can benefit your business. If you haven’t already, now’s an excellent time to unify the business around a single platform, ensuring the accuracy of data and avoiding silos.

The insights this provides will help create a vision for the future of the business, which you can then start to forecast. The CEO may expect you to guide the company through an uncertain future, to provide strategic direction on digital spending, managing risk, imposing governance and responding to regulatory change.

You have the opportunity to take the lead in digital transformation, redefining the finance function to play a more significant role in data governance, data flow, cybersecurity and other business priorities.

  1. A younger workforce with new priorities

There is now a divide between senior accountants and new breed accountants who use technology to automate basic number crunching and admin tasks. 93% of financial decision makers are happy for technology to carry the weight of daily accounting tasks.

In order to succeed, finance teams will have to go through a period of transition – either retraining or upskilling those who lack core competencies or relying on ‘gig’ or contract workers to fill gaps where needed. Companies will need a degree of flexibility and versatility to meet the changing needs of the finance function

Finance is becoming increasingly technical and strategic. To strengthen your position as a strategic business leader, take a look at a few ways to make sure your organization manages and analyses data thoroughly, optimizing information flow to ensure you hit KPIs. You could do this by harnessing the value of a young tech-savvy workforce, that will naturally accept what you’re trying to do.

Your team may well start to take on responsibilities around IT and regulations, and learn to be masters of actionable business intelligence. Harness this wave of millennial creativity and embrace innovation across the business, but it’s sensible to have seasoned finance professionals on the team whose experience will be invaluable, especially in a function that carries so much influence.

The future of finance is still in its infancy

Embracing digitalization gives you the power to harness data at your fingertips, and to empower your team to do the same. It’s important to champion the adoption of new technologies like data analytics. It will cut down administrative time and completely change how people see the finance team’s role in the business.  Harness digitalization to this end, and you will become visionary.

To implement this change effectively, creating a diverse team with a mix of backgrounds and experience is essential. Alongside newer technological and analytical skillsets, financial fundamentals, and corporate stewardship are still relevant, and experienced people are well-equipped to take a long-term view when it comes to the business.