By Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen
Despite a tumultuous 2020, a recent survey of CFOs conducted by AppZen showed that the majority have strong feelings of optimism about the future. Business leaders are confident that growth is on the horizon, mainly driven by the adoption of new technologies in their organisations. The survey of over 200 CFOs, senior finance executives and CEOs revealed that automated solutions will be prioritised by finance leaders, to modernise procedures as they embrace accelerated digitalisation. Respondents are also valuing tech-savvy recruits over those with only traditional accounting and finance skills.
Digitalisation and the modern CFO
The global pandemic has undoubtedly amplified the need for digital transformation. Increasingly, for new technologies to be implemented, the modern CFO must be involved in decision-making from the start, especially when evaluating digital solutions. The changing role of the CFO was illustrated by the survey results, which showed that CFOs are now trailblazing ahead of CEOs and CIOs, championing digital transformation projects not only in finance departments but company-wide.
Technology adoption and digital transformation will change the role of the CFO for many companies. According to the executives surveyed, the main challenge for digital transformation projects is support from C-suite executives, including CEOs and chief information officers. Also, 86% agree there is a heightened need for CFOs to provide real-time and accurate insights to key stakeholders, another responsibility of the modern CFO that overlaps with traditional CIO responsibilities.
Automation is king
For business leaders, productivity and efficiency are always key objectives, but the economic impact of Covid and remote working have only magnified the importance of these aims. A striking 90% of survey participants agreed that reducing manual, time-consuming procedures is a top priority for finance leaders. Overwhelmingly, implementing automation technologies and reducing manual work is seen as vital to improving the efficiency of finance teams.
Interestingly, the survey revealed that finance leaders regretted not investing more in technology across the past five years. This includes buying into advanced analytics, AI, blockchain, distributed ledger technology, machine learning and robotic process automation. Having recognised the error of their ways, most finance officials are implementing new tools into finance procedures, including expense audit automation.
Out with the old skills and in with the new
As the research has shown, CFOs are increasingly adopting digital solutions. Therefore, it is unsurprising that CFOs are reprioritising the type of skill-set that they value. The rising use of technology in finance teams has led CFOs to favour those with digital skills. Although finance and accounting skills are still customary requirements for new recruits, CFOs recognise the need for tech-savvy employees who are able to operate and onboard new solutions. They are as much of an investment as the technology itself.
CFOs are placing a greater emphasis on recruiting new finance talent with more technological/digital and data management/analytical skills, rather than talent with traditional finance accounting skills. This preference is even more pronounced in certain industries, with statistics showing that in the Auto, Industrial, and Manufacturing sector, the balance tips largely towards technology skills (38%) versus accounting skills (8%). This trend comes as CFOs look to add digital and technology capabilities to their teams directly – giving them even more control over their systems and reducing the need for IT involvement.
Having overcome one of the most challenging years to date, finance executives are looking ahead with hope and positivity. They have been forced to adjust to an entirely different way of working; managing teams remotely and formulating long-term business strategies whilst prospects for the upcoming year remain unclear.
A few certainties, however, have emerged. There is a consensus among finance leaders that investment in new technologies is key to streamlining operations that have historically been stalled by manual procedures. CFOs have recognised the benefit of leveraging automated solutions to strengthen business resilience and efficiency and are prioritising digital skills amongst their employees as well. These are the types of businesses that will thrive well into the future.
Anant Kale, CEO of AppZen confirms, “We share in the optimism for the year ahead and look forward to continuing to innovate and advance technology to help finance teams. CFOs and finance leaders will not only benefit from leveraging AI, it’s all about reimagining and being open to change across the entire enterprise so efficiency, financial decisions, compliance, and accountability are front and centre. This is critical as organisations undergo digital transformation.”
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