The role of accountancy and finance professionals has dramatically evolved in the pandemic, but only one in three think their current elevated status will be an enduring change, according to a global survey from the Association of Chartered Certified Accounts (ACCA) and PwC.
The finance profession has experienced a ‘five years in five months’ evolution due to Covid-19, as organisations increasingly looked to them to plot a path of financial stability in challenging business conditions.
The increased focus on financial and strategic skills, such as planning, forecasting and scenario analysis, has given accountants a seat at the leadership table as senior executives have called on their skills to ensure survival and to maintain the balance sheet.
However, the unrelenting demands of the last year have placed a strain on the mental health of finance professionals globally and the report warns that they must ensure their own wellbeing if they are to remain valuable.
Interviewees reported that teams were feeling fatigued and jaded, having worked harder in the last 12 months than they have ever done before. Adapting to 100% remote working has also proved difficult and draining for many. New ways of working are beginning to emerge that increase productivity, collaboration and employee engagement.
Respondents were asked what the most significant issues facing their organisation and 48% rated mental health concerns the priority. Finance leaders need to continue to manage this issue, especially as they plan a potential return to the office.
Less than half that percentage said environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations were the priority, raising a concern that issues such as the climate crisis have taken a back seat while organisations firefight the global pandemic. However, stakeholder interest in this area is growing rapidly and finance teams have an important part to play in explaining the organisation’s journey.
The report Finance Functions: Seizing the Opportunity also recommends a plan of action for accountants to retain their new-found status in organisations and capitalise on new opportunities.
Author Clive Webb, head of business management at ACCA, says they must concentrate on investing in their own capabilities in data, technology, innovation, collaboration, and strategy to remain as pivotal in the post-pandemic era. He found that those organisations that had already started to adopt a digital transformation strategy had managed the pandemic better.
Helen Brand, chief executive of ACCA, said: ‘Finance functions have responded well to the challenges of the pandemic. In many cases, their reputations have been enhanced.
‘There is an opportunity to build an even more relevant function, based on data, insights and collaboration. Finance teams cannot afford to lose sight of this.
‘If finance teams continue to focus purely on financial measures, when cashflow ceases to be the issue, there is a risk that organisations will revert to their pre-pandemic practices. There is a definite need to embrace change and develop skills.’
Brian Furness, partner and global head of finance consulting at PwC, said: ‘We have seen finance teams step up to the challenge and gain greater respect, and a seat at the boardroom table, bringing valuable insight to help tackle a wide range of business issues. Those who have invested in their people, technology and processes over recent years were clearly best able to adapt.
‘The challenge now for finance is to build on the progress made during the pandemic and take a central role in defining business strategy and direction. It is critically important they do this at a time when business models are changing and stakeholder interest in broader measures of business performance is increasing.
‘It would be all too easy for finance teams to shrink back into a familiar scorekeeping role but as this would be a wasted opportunity for finance professionals and the organisations they serve.’
ACCA Corporate Communications
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PwC Head of Media Relations
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Notes to editors
The ACCA / PwC survey drew responses from 3,064 ACCA members and affiliates, PwC contacts and various CFOs in March 2021. The responses came from a range of organisations and geographical regions. In addition to the survey, 12 roundtables that involved senior finance leaders who were either ACCA members or PwC contacts were conducted in 10 locations. Several interviews were also conducted.
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