Author: Hanadi Khalife, Senior Director of MEA and India operations at IMA
What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that in order to survive, businesses need to focus even more on growth. While the pandemic revealed how vulnerable a globalized economy can be, the flipside is also true – more globalization may help companies grow beyond their domestic borders.
A greater adoption of and adaption to technology will also go a long way in allowing organizations to become more agile and better equipped at dealing with the future. Having said that, simultaneously adopting the greater use of technology has impacted and further expanded the role and influence of the finance and accounting function in recent years. And along with the broadened horizons came increased personal stakes and accountability.
The role of finance and accounting professionals is rapidly expanding – no longer limited to interpreting and reporting data based on manual spreadsheets. Instead, it has evolved into a more strategic advisory function driven largely by wider ecosystem data-driven insights that impact business objectives. Technology is the big catalyst here. Organizations across sectors are experiencing the benefits of automation on their financial planning processes, including receiving more timely and insightful financial data through advanced analytics and AI-powered corporate performance management tools. Finance and accounting professionals are spending more time trying to better understand how advanced technologies can alleviate many of the issues they are facing within their departments by driving change, rather than simply reacting to it.
A study done earlier this year revealed that a majority of finance and accounting executives across North America are focused on investing in forward-looking initiatives around cloud-based analytics and modern technology-enabled reporting tools in the next three to five years to help their organizations grow and thrive in today’s competitive business environment.
The onus of helping young finance and accounting professionals embrace these technologies and get comfortable with the pace of change rests solely with organizations, and largely, with the CFOs who lead them.
For the longest time, the lack of commercial awareness, persuasion, influencing, and stakeholder management skills had tainted the image of the traditional finance team which was perceived to be outdated. That is in the past. Today, CFOs need to get their young colleagues to focus on holistic business skills that enable them to develop and nurture business partnerships, negotiate with key stakeholders and invest time in customer communication and relationship-building.
Investing in finance and accounting teams is getting more crucial by the day as the skills needed to move beyond numbers becomes a fundamental aspect of the function. Finance and accounting professionals in this day and age are required to leverage the data in their view to identify opportunities that facilitate strategic decisions which benefit the overall performance of the companies they serve.
Internal upskilling is favored as most CFOs now believe that it encourages internal career progression and helps to nurture a company’s corporate culture. It is also perceived to be not only conducive to employee retention, but also as less risky than recruiting new staff members. Whilst there are numerous commonly used strategies to upskill internally, sometimes the task at hand requires external certification programs that reflect the relevant skills needed at the time of certification. Such programs compliment internal mentoring and job rotation initiatives that better equip finance and accounting team members to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of their function on the different business units in relation to overall business operations.
The changing structure of global finance operations and the changing demands placed on the role will necessitate a tremendous effort by companies to empower existing staff to embrace a lifelong learning mentality that thereby future proofs their evolving skillsets.