COVID-19 has catalysed the single biggest shift in the role of financial decision-making in the past decade. It accelerated digital transformation and amplified the associated challenges for senior financial decision-makers – especially challenges around governance, remote working, and cyber security.
Despite this, Sage’s annual research into the challenges and opportunities facing CFOs – CFO 3.0: Digital transformation beyond financial management – revealed promising findings, especially when considering South Africa’s current economic climate.
As the first Sage region to conduct the CFO 3.0 research after the pandemic outbreak, it was encouraging to note that, although senior financial decision-makers are dealing with the biggest shift in their roles in the past decade, South African businesses have shown resilience in a time of massive disruption.
Why is this? Because most (87%) of the senior financial decision-makers we surveyed said that, thanks to their increasing use of advanced and emerging financial management technology, they have more time and freedom to focus on digitisation and to help shape business strategy and drive growth – a role that more CFOs are taking on – and driving.
The biggest shift
Our research found that CFOs face new complexities due to COVID-19, including managing a remote workforce and expanding security and compliance mandates. This is the most fundamental change in their job responsibilities in the past decade. It has even overtaken business strategy, which, until recently, was considered the most significant shift.
Today, nearly a third (27%) of senior financial decision-makers have taken on the responsibility of remote worker management since lockdown began.
But it’s not only CFOs that are playing a bigger role in digital strategy. The entire C-Suite is getting involved. Our research found that, in 75% of businesses, it’s the CEO who drives the overall strategy, with vital input, insight, and direction from the CFO and CIO. This suggests that digital transformation is no longer the sole responsibility of the CIO and is central to business strategy.
And, since budgetary approval is a key element of digital strategy, the finance function, too, has moved to the core of business strategy.
Before COVID-19, complying with ever-evolving finance legislation was a top concern for CFOs. Now, they have the added challenge of ensuring compliance across a decentralised network, a scattered workforce, and larger attack surface.
All the trends that were at play before the pandemic have been accelerated, with compliance, cybersecurity, and data protection rising to the top of the challenge pile.
As the gatekeepers of data, CFOs are increasingly looking to emerging technology to decrease risk, enable real-time decision-making, and help them to build a finance function that can withstand future challenges.
The shift to remote working also shifted senior financial decision-makers’ priorities. It’s no longer only about managing new data, technologies, and stakeholder expectations. They must also maximise their technology investments by enabling their teams to work remotely, while retaining accountability, transparency, and productivity.
Biggest challenges facing finance professionals in South Africa
Our research revealed a broad range of challenges facing finance professionals in the country. These were the top five concerns:
- Changing stakeholder needs – cited by 57% of respondents.
- Managing fraud and cybersecurity risk – cited by 50%.
- Modernising business processes with tech – also cited by 50%.
- Managing team productivity remotely – cited by 47%.
- Staying informed on changing regulatory requirements – cited by 43%.
Only 12% of CFOs think adapting to these changing job role requirements is challenging.
Secret to success
Organisations that were already in the cloud and using financial management solutions have had an easier time of managing this new landscape.
In fact, 44% have seen moderate to strong growth in organisational performance over the past year, despite – or in spite of – the COVID-induced recession. What’s more, 78% of these businesses expect even further growth – a key indicator that, in a time of recession and economic stress, revenue growth is the most significant contributor to a positive outlook.
CFOs are nearly unanimous in agreeing that next-generation financial management solutions that incorporate emerging technology has been critical to their success. Nine out of 10 businesses have adopted emerging technologies in some form, and over half of these businesses are implementing advanced or cutting-edge techniques.
In not being bogged down by numbers, budgets, data integration, and reporting, CFOs can turn their focus to changing stakeholder needs and modernising business processes.
That’s because technology is taking finance in a new direction and our research shows that senior financial decision-makers are going along for the ride – and enjoying it. DM/BM