Business planning

CFO 3.0: How digital transformation can improve financial reporting

Sage’s CFO 3.0: Digital transformation beyond financial management research revealed that nine out of 10 senior financial decision-makers in South African businesses play a vital role in their organisation’s digital transformation.

Like businesses all over the world, South African companies face significant challenges. But those that are advancing digital transformation to improve their financial reporting and business processes have been able to free up time and resources to drive innovation, improve reporting accuracy, and better serve their customers. Businesses with a progressive, open-minded leadership team are already identifying possibilities for digital transformation to improve financial reporting and they’re putting these initiatives into practice.

The finance department as a digital trailblazer

All CFOs find themselves having to do more with less. You’ll almost certainly find yourself helping the board make the right decisions, rather than solely reporting on what has happened. In our survey of 311 senior financial decision-makers, almost all are actively involved in digital transformation in their businesses. The result? A multifaceted role is emerging for finance leaders; one that combines skills like accounting, analytics, business management, and strategic thinking. They’re also taking on responsibilities that have never before been part of their remit.

Beyond the balance sheet, senior financial decision-makers now play a growing role in managing a remote workforce. This is the most fundamental change to their duties in the past 10 years. It has even overtaken business strategy, which, until recently, was considered the most significant shift. In fact, 27% are now also managing remote workers since lockdown began, while 21% are involved in driving business strategy and objectives.

CFO 3.0: Digital Transformation Beyond Financial Management

Discover how CFOs are playing a key role in leading the digitalisation of medium-sized businesses and learn how to move from a 'historian' to a 'visionary' within your business.

Download the whitepaper

Conquering the data mountain

The need to act fast to meet changing customer needs and drive down costs to handle the uncertainties of a rapidly evolving market are matched by the challenges of stringent reporting and compliance requirements and frequent amendments to financial regulations. However, finance departments are often overwhelmed by the amount of data they receive. That said, in South Africa, 64% of CFOs spend more time analysing data than they do gathering and processing it, compared to 50% of financial managers in the UK.

This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and its application of machine learning (ML) play an important role. By identifying patterns and reducing the time spent on simple, repetitive tasks, the finance team can be freed-up to analyse the data in a more nuanced, creative way. What’s more, robotic process automation (RPA) can drive efficiencies and supports real-time financial reporting – and therefore real-time compliance.

With their focus no longer consumed with balancing the books, CFOs and other senior financial decision-makers can step up to help drive the business’ digital agenda and, therefore, its competitiveness.

Evolving from a traditional management style, which relied on intuition and gut decisions, to a data-driven, real-time organisation can be culturally disruptive. But this doesn’t appear to be a concern for South African CFOs, according to our findings: 73% say their organisations are ready for more automation.

The role of automation in compliance and reporting

The trends we saw prior to the Coronavirus pandemic – the move to the cloud, overseeing a remote workforce, and keeping abreast of compliance regulations – have gained momentum.

Managing these changes is an onerous task. Automation can make a huge difference here, as evidenced by companies that were already using digital and emerging technologies to drive efficiencies. These business are finding it much easier to navigate this unchartered territory, with 49% having seen moderate to strong increase in performance and 78% predicting even further growth during this time of economic stress.

CFOs are almost in complete agreement that a union of next-generation and emerging technology has been a deciding factor in their success. In fact, nine out of 10 businesses surveyed have adopted some form of emerging tech.

At the same time, 90% of CFOs and other senior financial decision-makers welcome automation carrying out more of their routine accounting duties, so that they can direct their attention towards further digital transformation in their organisations.

Senior financial decision-makers are, undoubtedly, becoming increasingly confident in new and emerging technology, with most citing direct productivity benefits, like automated compliance reporting and the ability to make real-time decisions around risks and opportunities.

Two-thirds of large businesses say their company’s investment in digital transformation is ‘good’ and even ‘excellent’, with more than 80% using financial management tech to automate and expedite their compliance reporting. In addition, more than 50% say automation has had a positive effect on the efficiency of their businesses

Managing financial reporting through tech

Even if some aspects of digital transformation sound complex or ambitious, you can still use a financial management system to oversee and govern many of your day-to-day transactions.

There are a growing number of modern business management solutions. Most of them are cloud-based, which provides you with greater flexibility around data storage and means anyone with the right authority can access the information, whether they’re in the office or on the road.

The simple business of producing invoices for customers and then handling payments can be faster, more streamlined and more accurate with the right financial management systems and accounting software.

Providing accurate and effective financial reporting is a constant challenge. Added to this is the emergence of new, disruptive entrants to the market that work on a tech-first basis.

However, as a dynamic CFO, you have a growing suite of tech products at your disposal that can improve the experience of your customers and your employees, as well as your financial reporting.

Finding the right technology partner and working closely with them to choose the right products is key to driving the kind of digital transformation that can give your business a competitive advantage and secure its future.

Preparing the finance function in the wake of COVID-19

Discover how CFOs are playing a key role in leading the digitalisation of medium-sized businesses and learn how to move from a 'historian' to a 'visionary' within your business.

Download the ebook