Finance leaders have steadily taken on new roles and responsibilities in response to digital transformation. The past two years of economic and social upheaval driven by the COVID-19 pandemic have fast-tracked digitalisation and have put a spotlight on pre-pandemic issues such as data security and remote working. A growing number of businesses now look to their finance leaders to steer them through market changes and periods of volatility safely and without disruption.
Finance leaders need to empower their remote and hybrid teams with accurate, relevant, and reliable insights that highlight opportunities and mitigate risk to meet these heightened expectations.
Sage is particularly interested in how the impact of the pandemic has propelled the evolution of financial leadership and given rise to today’s CFO 3.0. As part of its Future of Finance series, Sage recently hosted a webinar to discuss findings from its research report – The Digital CFO – and explore how finance leaders use advanced cloud software to adapt to the new challenges and demands they face.
The event opened with a poll asking attendees the following question: What percentage of finance leaders believe AI-powered cloud solutions will positively impact their teams’ work? With four options to choose from, 34% of respondents got it right. The answer, based on Sage research, is 85%.
Tech entrepreneur Nobukhosi Dlamini shared her thoughts on this impressive statistic.
“It’s encouraging to know that finance leaders are acknowledging the importance of AI technologies and cloud solutions. I have spent much time motivating for new technology, pushing business decision-makers to consider new developments and adopt relevant solutions. The biggest hurdle is always organisational culture. As soon as its leaders are on board, a company’s digital migration is much easier.”
Working together from afar
There’s no doubt that the unpredictable impact of the pandemic has challenged digital hesitancy among finance leaders and pushed them towards the rapid adoption of new tech. The urgent need at the time was to keep teams connected and able to work from home. Interestingly, 60% of finance leaders believe that remote work is here to stay, likely in the form of a hybrid model, and yet 39% of CFOs lack an effective system to support remote working.
With that in mind, Jordaan Burger, vice president of finance for Sage Africa, Middle East, and APAC, said data access and tech adoption among finance teams is still a challenge.
“We’ve gone from working in the office alongside our colleagues to very suddenly working from our homes – and we need to accept that remote work will continue after the pandemic. Finance teams and their leaders need to hone new skills like online collaboration and remote team management to sustain this shift. In other words, everyone – from the people that capture data, to the people that analyse numbers, to the people that make the decisions – needs to adopt a whole new way of working. It’s no good providing just the finance leaders with AI-powered cloud solutions; the technology needs to serve the full finance function.”
Turning data into action
The future of finance lies in data-driven decisions. Having proven their mettle during the pandemic, finance leaders will continue to drive business strategies through ongoing digital transformation and empowerment. Their success as leaders depends on their ability to turn financial data into compelling narratives that articulate the future of their businesses with clarity and foresight.
“Businesses increasingly understand that the finance profession is not only about crunching the numbers,” said Chuma Mjali, deputy head of department and lecturer at the University of Forte Hare. “Companies are looking for financial professionals who are emotionally intelligent as well as intellectually so, digitally savvy, and able to think critically. Essentially, today’s finance leader is an agile problem-solver who can manage remote teams to translate reams of data into actionable business insights effectively.”
The financial profession’s rapid evolution has thrown many professionals into the deep end. The future of finance depends on redesigning training programmes to ensure that graduates enter the workforce better prepared and that employees are consistently upskilled in line with the latest developments.
The Sage CFO 3.0 research report findings support this trend: 97% of finance leaders in charge of adopting and adapting to modern technologies such as cloud-based software realise the need to include and upskill their teams to get the best results from the get-go.
From an educational perspective, Mjali notes: “Professional bodies in the finance sector have responded to the skills shift by ensuring that digital acumen is part of the university curricula.”
Dlamini provided some thoughts in terms of accessing the skills needed right now.
“Businesses running their own on-site technology will likely need their own operational team to maintain the infrastructure and ensure stability, as well as people to manage cyber security issues. These are expensive and in-demand skills that are often out of reach for small to medium-sized enterprises. On the other hand, rather than investing in a costly recruitment drive, cloud-first organisations can access and leverage these skills through their software providers.”
Data, data, data
Finance leaders will increasingly direct business strategies through data-driven decisions, which means they must understand the data. Cloud-based financial software such as Sage Intacct provides finance teams with the advanced tech required to analyse the data for strategic storytelling.
“Data – and being able to access it from anywhere – is crucial for the CFO to do their job effectively,” added Burger. “For that reason, cloud technology has proven its worth, but it also addresses security concerns as well as the more mundane things like data backups. AI-powered cloud software adds even more value; it interprets real-time data to help finance leaders make the right decisions as quickly as possible – and communicate them successfully.”
The Sage Power Sessions explore the why, how, and actual benefits of businesses embracing the future of finance today. In this session, discover how AI-powered cloud-based software is transforming financial leadership.