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The Finance Department of the Future: New + Different

The accelerated pace of change driven by technology, coupled with the impact of Covid, created a perfect storm for many functions. According to a recent article published by Accenture, the role of Finance has been changing from Business Partner to Strategic enabler, ‘the CFO reimagined.’ CFOs drive organizational agility, data-driven decisions through effective technology adoption, improved business effectiveness, and talent retooling.

A leader has the responsibility to embrace the change and guide their team through this change, achieving the ultimate goal – improved productivity through technology and increased value-add to the enterprise through data-driven decisions.  – Judy Romano

The New and Different - Technology and Finance Collaboration

1. The Connected Communicators

The role of Finance includes communicating financial information to executives, the board, and investors. In the past, these communications were mostly delivered through financial reports. The preparation of these reports and analyses required analytical skills and only to a small extent, the ability to story tell.

As the pace of change continues to increase, executives, the board, and investors demand more comprehensive and easily digestible timely and relevant information. Through the use of technology, the Finance Department has access to this information in real-time.

With the ease of access to data, asking the right questions of the data is key. The answers are only as good as the questions that are being asked.  With the right data answering the right questions, Business Intelligence tools are being used for Storytelling through KPIs and other advanced visualization methods. Having the right tools is key but must be coupled with effective communication to drive the data-driven insights home.

Now what?  

In this changing world, Finance professionals are expected to interpret and present the data and have the ability to understand the bigger picture. The audience might require additional context and expect these insights from the Finance department.

Communication skills are essential, the ability to be clear and concise.  Warren Buffett once wrote, “When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or Finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform. “

2. The Protectors

Control and compliance have always been a core responsibility of the Finance and Accounting Department. As a result of the pandemic, the focus has shifted to ensuring full compliance and early detection of any potential shortcuts that might be taken across the enterprise.

With significant pressure on the financials, reduced staff levels, and increased decision-making speed, companies must find ways to protect organizational integrity. Executives rely on Technology and Security to keep the organization safe, fully compliant with regulatory requirements, and meet customer expectations. 

Security First – with the unexpected move to remote working, security had to pivot quickly to help ensure the networks’ safety, tight access management, and documented change management protocols.

Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) products have become core parts of Security organizations to prevent cyber attacks. As all businesses moved to remote working, it is essential to deploy preventive tools monitoring for potential cyberattacks.

Even before the pandemic, companies have increased the usage of technology for Control and Compliance. Deploying RPA in Internal Audit allows Auditors to spend more time on value-add analysis, including risk assessment, Compliance, and control. Deloitte’s article ‘Moving Internal Audit into Robotic Process Automation’ outlines some of the common applications of RPA:

  • ‘Gathering background information and metrics from multiple systems or sources to better define audit scope
  • Continuously monitoring business operations that would be too demanding and/or expensive if done manually
  • Prepopulating documentation requests based on audit scope
  • Generating planning documentation by automating text-heavy documents
  • Performing “what-if” analysis on more data more frequently
  • Detecting suspicious logs associated with IT systems
  • Real-time reporting of frauds arising in financial systems
  • Testing control effectiveness based on a sample or the entire population’

The recent events even further elevated the need to focus on control and Compliance. The Finance Department, jointly with Technology and Security, must ensure that the right levels of control are in place and identify permanent ways to increase business effectiveness due to increased reliance on technology tools. 

3. Augmented Leader

Technology continues to play an increased role in Finance and Accounting, forcing all to adapt to new working ways, working side-by-side with technology. As employees, technology also requires active management.

Humans code technology for very specific tasks, including granting access to highly confidential and secure information. Whilst machines replace people, these machines need to be checked frequently to validate that they are doing the jobs they were ‘hired’ to do. As leaders evaluate their teams’ performance, they are also expected to evaluate the machines to confirm that they are still the ‘right hire’ for the tasks on hand.

As companies embed technology into their ‘back office’ operations, the aspect of cultural change should not be underestimated. Employees need to embrace technology as an enabler that creates capacity for more value-add activities. At the same time, they will also need to upskill to acquire the new skills required as their roles continue to evolve.

Read more articles by Big Thinks Managing Editor - Judy Romano

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