Major trends for reshaping the finance function

Gerhard Hartman, VP, Medium Business – Africa & Middle East at Sage, explains how finance is fast becoming data-driven and strategic and CFOs need to know.

CFOs and senior finance professionals in the Middle East recognise that the world is changing, with a perfect storm of technological and social forces transforming the rules of business. So how do you thrive in this new world? It starts with looking at the three main trends driving the corporate finance function – the digitalisation of the finance industry, more demand for strategic decision-making, and a younger workforce with new priorities.

Gerhard Hartman, VP, Medium Business – Africa & Middle East at Sage

Digitalising finance

CFOs understand that technology has an important role to play in elevating efficiency. As a senior finance professional, you’re always looking for ways to improve efficiency so that you can serve the business better. Data-driven insights and automation can help you achieve this. Automation is a reliable way of improving the quality of financial data that can increase the productivity of your finance/accounting team members.

The benefits of automation include:
• Minimising manual intervention in financial operations and other accounting-related tasks, such as ledger entry and reconciliation
• Auto-population using data from ERP and other systems
• Reducing the potential for human error
• Faster turnaround times
• More efficient use of staff time due to cutting down on manual processes

Automation allows you to aggregate vast data volumes to unlock insights. With data-driven insights, CFOs are better equipped to serve as strategic advisors for their businesses. It’s also a good idea to identify which metrics you can track in real-time, as this improves the data quality and offers greater visibility into the business.

Building a culture of automation can increase your productivity through a reduction in manual processes, fewer errors and faster processing times. Automation enables quicker enterprise-wide decision-making while improving regulatory compliance and ensuring accurate financial statements.

More demand for strategic decision-making

Finance decision-makers are now seeing themselves transform from number crunchers to business strategists. As a finance leader, you now have a new mandate – to move beyond the traditional role where you measure past performance to leading your business as a gatekeeper of data and analytics.
You can use data insights to create a vision for the future, for which you can then start to plan and forecast. The CEO may expect you to guide the business through an uncertain future and provide strategic direction on digital spending, managing risk, imposing governance and responding to regulatory change.

It is your opportunity to take the lead in digital transformation, redefining the finance function to take on a more significant role in data governance, data flow, cybersecurity and other business priorities.

A younger workforce with new priorities

With millennials taking up more senior roles in businesses and more members of Generation Z moving into the workforce, technology priorities are starting to emerge. There is a divide between senior accountants and new-breed accountants who use technology to automate number-crunching and admin. Most new-breed accountants will have implemented cloud-based technology three to four years ago, while their older counterparts will only have acquired cloud-based systems in the past two years.

Finance is becoming increasingly technical and strategic. To strengthen your position as a strategic business leader, look at a few ways to ensure your organisation manages and analyses data thoroughly, optimising information flow to hit its KPIs. To achieve this objective, you can leverage a young tech-savvy workforce that will naturally support what you’re trying to do.

Your team may well start to take on responsibilities around IT and regulations, and learn to master actionable business intelligence. Harness this wave of millennial creativity and embrace innovation across the business. However, it’s still sensible to have seasoned finance professionals on the team, whose experience will be invaluable.

The future of finance

To lead finance in a digital world, creating a diverse team with a mix of backgrounds and experience is essential. Alongside newer technological and analytical skillsets, financial fundamentals and corporate stewardship are still relevant, and experienced people are well-equipped to take a long-term view when it comes to the business.