While the pandemic continues to form a black cloud of economic uncertainty over businesses, CFOs are being burdened with the pressure of not just maintaining cash flow, but improving it.
Because while the CEO is often seen as being in the driving seat, the CFOs role has transformed during the pandemic – from bean counter to digital innovator.
CFOs are increasingly taking the lead in supporting digital strategies, identifying key areas of focus and investment in all areas of the business as well as the finance department.
But under increasing financial scrutiny, choosing between tightening the purse strings and investing in long-neglected areas of the business is a tough balancing act.
In 2022, there are three priorities CFOs should concern themselves with to see out another successful year, no matter what unforeseen events come their way.
1. Intelligent reporting
CFOs are looking to set their organisations up for financial success in 2022 and beyond, with better flexibility in budgeting and forecasting the top focus for CFOs in the coming months, according to a Gartner survey.
Yet like driving while looking at the rear-view mirror, this can’t happen if financial planning, budgeting, and reporting take place on a quarterly or annual basis. If 2022 is to be another year full of economic uncertainty, CFOs need to be able to deal with sudden and unpredictable changes.
Access to data in real-time as well as visibility over day-to-day financial processes is key to making this a reality. But although 69% of CFOs surveyed by Garnet claim the pandemic accelerated their digital initiatives, while many expect technology to lead to a substantial or total transformation in the finance function by 2026.
This is far too late. Businesses need to change their mindset from thinking of technology as an investment, not a cost, while becoming more agile in the way they procure digital tools – cloud ERP or accounting systems for example, or Software as-a-Service (SaaS) accounts payable solutions.
2. Upskilling finance staff
It’s not just the CFO’s role that has changed. As technology creeps into almost every stage of the financial process, accounting teams – most of which still remember, and maybe even prefer, the days of paper checks and invoices – are having to learn new digital skills in order to succeed in their roles.
A McKinsey survey uncovered 87% of financial executives are experiencing skill gaps in their workforce, while a study by UK Finance found 30% of financial services workers felt they needed more digital/tech expertise.
The rapid digitalisation of traditional financial processes – such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and invoice processing – has brought new urgency to upskilling workers.
Without a digitally competent workforce, the financial services sector will find it challenging to navigate this digital transformation tide to innovate, differentiate and compete. Those companies upskilling and re-skilling their resources can benefit from a workforce that can speed up the adoption of new technology trends and capitalise on differentiating product and service strategies.
And, with the ‘Great Resignation’ seeing employees leaving en-masse, training and upskilling finance staff could be the key to keeping hold of talent while attracting new ones. An increasing number of companies are investing in upskilling as a tool for keeping their workforce engaged, especially as more and more start to work alone from home and hiring externally may cost companies up to six times more than re-skilling existing ones.
According to Gartner, hyperautomation – rapidly automating as many business and IT processes as possible – is one of the top strategic trends that CFOs need to immediately address for 2022. Hyperautomation is a long-term strategy that focuses on measurable improvements, rather than automating tasks just for the sake of it.
The reason for this change is because many CFOs have fallen foul of utilising technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and AI on their own at the detriment of other technologies. By not combining these to automate several processes at once, businesses have made it harder to scale and have left a large section of the finance processes to be dealt with manually.
Hyperautomation could be the answer to the CFO’s conundrum of increasing growth, digitalisation and operational excellence while reducing costs. Due in part to the sudden need for new, remote technologies, the pandemic has caused businesses to implement a fragmented approach to technology that threaten to derail the benefits of digitalisation.
But rather than leaving technologies to work in silos, hyperautomation focuses on combining RPA, AI, machine learning, and other tools and platforms to provide actionable benefits that can be measured against business outcomes.
The more business-driven approach of hyperautomation allows CFOs to scan, analyse, and automate as many financial and IT processes as possible. Not only does this dramatically reduce time spent on mundane date-entry tasks, it also reduces the costs of doing so while also allowing for quick and efficient adjustments in the face of a changing business environment.
The CFO in 2022
CFOs need to see, react to, and embrace new trends to stay ahead of not just the competition, but make sure their business can quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
By building on these new ideas, platforms, and technology, CFOs can ensure the long-term success of their organisation.
Because CFOs aren’t just finance leaders any more, but head of the digital transformation journey that all businesses need to get on board with. Only when data and technology is effectively leveraged can CFOs transform their organisations and ensure strategic business outcomes can be met.