Placing this discussion in context it is important to reflect upon where we were prior to the pandemic. Finance functions in many organisations were undergoing change. The implementation of digital technologies was at the core of a transformation in many organisations. Generation CFO’s Digital Finance Function Model explores this. These technologies, often aligned to Industry 4.0, increased the focus on customer centricity, with organisational performance reflective of customer need. The customers were also changing as Generation Z were increasingly becoming important, if not dominant, consumers. Their appreciation of value and service requires organisations to become more agile and innovative.

The transformation of the finance function was being driven by a data revolution. The use of data analytics and modelling enabled finance functions to tell a more powerful story and be increasingly involved in the strategic decisions of the organisation.

Agile finance teams

So, has the pandemic changed finance for ever? In response to a poll conducted as part of a Generation CFO and ACCA webinar, 74 respondents answered ‘yes’ while 17 responded ‘no’. The influences on this level of response are clear. Finance teams have been required to become more agile in the pandemic. Scenario modelling and short-term forecasting have become the order of the day. This requires the use of data driven insights and a step up in the analytics capability, as outlined in ACCA and CA ANZ’s report Analytics in Finance and Accountancy.

However, it is not just a data challenge it is also an organisational change. The traditional hierarchical organisations have given way to project centric teams that are networks of individuals who can be redeployed quickly and who are supported by leadership teams that are playing the role of the enabler who help their teams to achieve their missions.

The broader role of finance

Finance teams have faced challenges. Where organisations were not on the data driven transformation journey, this has been harder. Many have faced the need to play catch-up and to deploy technological solutions that were perhaps considered as longer-term projects in a matter of months. Improving front end systems that facilitate engagement with customers has become a necessity for many rather than a nice to have. These projects are now cross-organisational. No longer are finance systems islands, rather they are an integral part of the system and data architecture of the organisation.

Reflecting upon their experience of the past six months one panel member working in finance noted that integrating project teams in this agile way had proved essential to maintaining organisational strength. This pan-organisational role for finance is considered in ACCA and PwC’s report Finance Insights – Reimagined.

This broader role of finance requires team members to view technology not just as a tool but as a business enabler. They need to move away from solely thinking about systems but understand how it creates commercial advantage and embraces the customer journey. This is considered further in ACCA’s report The Digital Accountant. The adage that technology implementations looking for a business solution are likely to fail remains as true today as it was previously. The pandemic has not changed this.

The mindset challenge

The webinar participants were asked if they considered the main barrier to making digital change in the finance function was the team members mindset? The overwhelming majority considered that it was. Achieving organisational change has long been seen as a challenge. When that change is rapid and constant then the challenge is multiplied. One panellist working in finance commented that their success in undertaking transformation, especially during the pandemic, had been in part down to the involvement of all the relevant finance teams’ members from the start. The views of the longest serving team member, who might otherwise have been a resister to change, were fundamental in shaping the future ways of working. Having an inclusive culture, especially in times of change, is important. This is especially the case when teams are remote and not connected in traditional ways.

Has finance changed forever?

The evidence from the discussion suggests that it has. But not necessarily in the ways that we expect. The technological revolution has driven finance to become more efficient. The data revolution has required it to be more forward looking and model scenarios not report the past. The pandemic has strengthened these drivers and required finance teams to be more collaborative and agile. To become the super-connectors in organisations and to recognise that change needs to be embraced for their organisations to survive in these challenging times