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The finance community lists its ability to report financial data accurately and with relevance as its number one priority. Picture: SUPPLIED/SAGE/iSTOCK
The finance community lists its ability to report financial data accurately and with relevance as its number one priority. Picture: SUPPLIED/SAGE/iSTOCK

SA’s identification of Covid-19’s latest variant, Omicron, followed by the rest of the world’s mostly punitive response, is a reminder that we are not out of the pandemic woods yet.

Since March 26 2020, SA businesses have fought to survive as the global economy and working world as we knew it suffered serious setbacks. Those organisations still standing today have one thing in common: leadership committed to digital transformation.

In addition to our impressive scientists who alerted the World Health Organisation to Omicron, SA’s senior financial decisionmakers deserve a pat on the back. Amid high levels of revenue uncertainty and general panic and confusion, many finance leaders have helped sustain operations by leading their businesses’ digitalisation journeys successfully. 

That said, their journeys continue as challenges such as data overload, data access and data security clamour for more attention.

A recent Sage survey of the local finance community provides insights on how finance leaders are responding to the issues and opportunities they now face. There is growing acceptance that the pandemic has permanently pushed customers and employees into an online world, with 60% of financial professionals agreeing that the hybrid/remote working model is here to stay.

Having proved their mettle in this new reality, there’s no going back for finance leaders; businesses have realised just how important they are when it comes to navigating unpredictability. In fact, 95% of senior financial decisionmakers report that they are now more directly involved in determining their companies’ overall business strategies than ever before. 

Super-powered finance 

Gone are the days of simply reporting the numbers after the fact. Businesses now look to finance leaders for future-focused strategic guidance. There is no doubt that digital advancement, fast-tracked by the pandemic, is driving — and supporting — this reinvention of the financial leadership role. By adopting new technologies such as AI and automation, as well as new software such as cloud-based financial solutions, senior financial decisionmakers are empowering their teams to meet expectations beyond the traditional role of the finance function. 

But it’s not a slam-dunk just yet. As businesses prepare for 2022, finance leaders need to build on their recent accomplishments by honing their advisory, digital and communication skills even more. 

Focus areas for forward-thinking finance leaders are:

Accounting and financial reporting

The finance community lists its ability to report financial data accurately and with relevance as its number one priority. That might sound obvious, but 83% of finance leaders say that business finance and accounting has become much more complex. This is understandable given their increased workloads, shareholders’ increasing expectations, the challenges of managing remote teams, and dealing with high volumes of data. These stresses are compounded for those who struggle to access their finance systems remotely.

Digital transformation

Notwithstanding its enormous benefits, the digitalisation process can be challenging — and change, even when for the best, is often met with hesitation. The reality, however, is that those businesses further along their digital transformation journeys before the pandemic struck were able to shift online far more easily than others using less advanced technology. To successfully lead their teams while navigating a constantly changing business environment, finance leaders realise they need to become digital transformation experts. And to do that, 95% say they need better financial technology in their organisations. 

Data security

In a remote working environment, huge volumes of sensitive data need to be accessed and shared in accordance with safety and privacy regulations. Cybercrime, particularly data theft, presents a challenge for 50% of finance leaders and their teams. Data security concerns can contribute to digitalisation hesitancy, which undermines an organisation’s longevity in the world as we now know it. The more empowered finance leaders are as digital transformation experts, the better they will be able to identify the best and most secure financial software solution for their businesses’ needs.

Risk management

The inability to access data remotely poses another business risk as downtime is costly and inefficient. Outdated technologies and on-premise software are just not built for today’s remote working reality and only add to senior financial decisionmakers’ stresses: 71% are concerned that their teams cannot access their companies’ financial systems remotely. 

Product and/or service innovation

As customers move more and more online, businesses must follow: 72% of finance leaders report an increase in selling to and servicing their customers online. That’s an impressive statistic as selling products and services online is not the same as doing so in person. The online world has changed how customers and businesses engage; finance functions need to be digitally empowered and agile to respond to customers’ demands and behaviours without missing a beat.  

Storytelling

As business leaders, CFOs are required to turn data into communicable insights for action. In recognition of this, 33% of finance leaders say they need to be storytellers who can communicate — with confidence and clarity — decisive strategies for their companies’ futures based on real-time data and predictive analytics. Cloud-based systems provide intelligent support in this regard, processing and compiling relevant data for quick dissemination and compelling insights. 

Supply chain management

Given that speed and agility are crucial in this new reality, all business functions need to work together rather than in silos — and this includes the supply chain. At present, 45% of finance leaders say they face challenges in forecasting demand and revenue due to uncertainty. An integrated, digitalised, accessible and transparent supply chain will help finance leaders build their strategies based on real-time intelligence analysed for relevance. 

There is every hope that 2022 will unfold with greater stability and security than the past two years. But if we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it’s that we can’t predict the future — unless you’re a digitally empowered finance leader thriving in the new working world thanks to your cloud-based financial software system.

This article was paid for by Sage.

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