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[Webinar] The magic of financial storytelling: How advanced tech helps finance leaders turn data into strategy

As 2022 picks up its pace, some cautiously optimistic voices suggest that we will soon see the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, the social and economic impacts of the pandemic have entrenched irreversible changes in how we work. Trends such as remote working and online customer engagement are, without a doubt, here to stay.

The past two years of accelerated digitalisation and an unpredictable global market have put financial leaders under increased pressure. In fact, in its Digital CFO research report that interviewed 313 of South Africa’s senior finance professionals, Sage reported that 83% of respondents say that business and accounting is now much more complex than it was even a year ago. Today’s finance leaders are expected not only to manage enormous, never-ending flows of data but to make sense of it all too – and, crucially, to translate the numbers into strategic narratives.

Sage recently hosted a webinar to discuss the importance of financial storytelling and how finance leaders can use advanced cloud-based software to meet their businesses’ expectations. The panellists included Nobukhosi Dlamini, a tech entrepreneur; Chuma Mjali, Deputy Head of Department and lecturer at the University of Forte Hare, and Jordaan Burger, Vice President of Finance for Sage Africa, Middle East, and APAC.

95% of respondents say that COVID-19 has highlighted the need for better financial technology in their organisations.

The cloud makes sense

The cloud leapt into the limelight during the pandemic thanks to its ability to keep teams working together from afar. Remote yet secure data access and collaboration are integral to keeping the wheels of commerce turning in a locked-down world. However, such benefits are also crucial to financial storytelling in the post-pandemic business reality.

“Cloud technology is how we integrate teams and systems,” said Burger. “It’s how the business works as one for relevant and decisive action. What began as a means to provide data access remotely can now sync with other advanced tech like automation and AI. In other words, cloud-based software can support finance leaders and their teams with powerful data analysis tools that give them the insights they need to build strategic stories that resonate with the board.”

Dlamini added her voice to the discussion.

“To build that narrative around financial performance, finance professionals will increasingly rely on advanced analysis and reporting tools to make sense of the numbers. More and more SMEs are putting advanced technologies to great use, utilising various digital tools’ features and capabilities to tell their stories.”

SMEs and the cloud

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) typically have limited cash reserves and thus, need to respond to market changes with agility. Yet, 95% of the Sage Digital CFO research respondents said they suffer from data overload and can’t make good decisions fast enough.

“As SMEs, we can save money and time by using the cloud,” said Dlamini. “We don’t need to buy our own infrastructure or hire expensive skills like data analysts or cybersecurity specialists. Instead, we can draw on the pool of resources we share with our chosen cloud providers. There really is no need to drown in data!”

“We have so much more data now, and it just keeps growing,” added Burger. “But we need to stay on top of the data to tell the story so that our businesses can take action. It’s impossible to work our way through all the data manually; any company that takes that approach will fall behind the competition fast. Cloud-based software enhanced with relevant automated applications do all the data inputting and analysis work for us. Finance leaders can then interpret the results and communicate them in a compelling and actionable narrative.”

The storytelling mindset

The past two years have focused on survival. Now, as we shift into a post-pandemic reality, businesses are starting to take stock of the impact and consider how to build much-needed new skills and mindsets from the get-go.

Coming from an academic perspective, Mjali provided the following context.

“Essentially, financial storytelling is being able to narrate, for example, a change in profit from X to Y, with rich insights that answer the questions ‘why?’ and ‘what now?’. It’s not enough to just crunch and churn out the numbers. Some professional bodies have started to acknowledge this and think about the future of chartered accountants. This mindset shift towards digitally empowered strategic storytelling requires whole new training curricula at the university level. The accountancy graduates of 2025 must enter the workplace able to dissect and interpret data analyses to find the meaning in numbers and tell the stories that get their businesses moving in the best possible direction.”

Tomorrow’s finance professionals will undoubtedly step into jobs geared with different skills sets and mindsets from their contemporaries. Cloud-based financial software such as Sage Intacct provides finance teams with the advanced tech they need to harness the magic of financial storytelling now and in the future.

“As financial professionals,” said Burger, “financial storytelling is one of our most important responsibilities. Our potential as strategic business leaders – and thus our potential for career advancement – depends on our abilities to take the numbers and turn them into stories. As strategic financial storytellers, we can prove ourselves as business allies fit for the board.”