Over the past year and more, European finance professionals have helped guide their businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. They have played a key role in supporting their organisations to first navigate the initial shock and panic and then reset their strategies in response to events.
At a recent Money Talks roundtable, hosted virtually by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA & CIMA), a panel of European finance leaders discussed the challenges they faced during the pandemic. They also shared their lessons learned and explained how digital transformation had helped their businesses reimagine their futures post-pandemic.
Their key learnings were:
1. The crisis has highlighted efficiency opportunities
Using digital tools to run meetings and workshops drives efficiency because it saves employees' time and reduces travel costs. Homeworking has also resulted in many organisations' choosing to scale back their real estate footprint.
2. Automation can help drive profitability
The finance leader of an airline group explained that linking the company's operational system with its accounting system had allowed it to create a real-time P&L for each flight, enabling the business to undertake quick analysis and allocate airplanes, pilots, and crews to profitable routes. This will help drive profitability for the airline once travel restrictions are eased in the future.
3. Sell the benefits of digital transformation to drive culture change
It is essential that finance professionals bring leaders and colleagues with them on the transformation journey. They can do this by involving the business in decisions around new systems and explaining how the systems will help them in their work.
4. Don't put off bold decisions
During a crisis, businesses may be cautious about taking investment decisions. In doing so, however, they could miss out on opportunities to better serve their customers and grow their markets.
5. Maintain the agility, flexibility, and pace to adapt to fast-changing circumstances
Going forward, finance teams should look to maintain the agility and creativity they demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis. They also need to support their companies' efforts to innovate — for example, by developing new products or services or selling directly to consumers when they previously used indirect channels to market. Agility requires finance teams to make decisions at a rapid rate, without necessarily having access to solid financial analysis.
Increasingly, they are spending less time on forecasting and more time analysing different scenarios and the implications of these for the organisation. Many organisations have stopped doing three-year plans. One finance leader described the new agile approach of finance professionals as "adapt to win" and indicated that, at the moment, progress is more valued than perfection.
6. Engagement underpins productivity in remote teams
By having a weekly check-in with team members, finance leaders can help maintain morale. Celebrating wins — for example, at the month close — is also a good way to keep people engaged. To avoid overload, people should be encouraged to separate their work and home lives. One simple way of doing this is to change clothes at the end of the working day.
7. Establish an agreed protocol for running an online meeting
Many finance professionals had little experience with videoconferencing prior to 2020 and were initially reluctant to switch on their cameras during meetings. One finance leader suggested that a good approach to online meetings is to ask everyone present to switch their cameras on at the start and when speaking. Communication within teams can also be improved if people are encouraged to hold non-business-related meetings, such as virtual coffee times. Collaboration tools, such as Miro, can help finance professionals work together more effectively.
8. Remote working offers opportunities to recruit from a broader talent pool
Finance teams can now recruit staff from smaller cities and towns in their countries and even from other countries, depending on the sector they operate in.
Rise of the chief value officer
The roundtable highlighted that as well as advancing digital transformation, the pandemic has served to accelerate the transformation of chief financial officers into chief value officers. Increasingly, finance leaders are expected to take a holistic view of all the value generated by their organisation — both financial and nonfinancial — and this trend is likely to accelerate further as the recovery gathers pace. By taking fast and bold decisions, they're able to grab opportunities.
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- "Risk Governance: Pandemic Recovery Tips for Boards", FM magazine, 1 April 2021
- "Finance Leaders Share Their Plans to Leave the Pandemic Behind", FM magazine, 26 February 2021
- "How to Build Resilience — for the Next Crisis", FM magazine, 27 January 2021
The report Digital Transformation Reimagined: Accountants' Lessons Learned and Tips for Moving Forward examines how finance professionals helped their organisations overcome COVID-19's business challenges and their strategic role as they ready their companies for sustainable success. The report is available at cgma.org/digitalforward.
Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, is chief executive—Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe, an FM magazine senior editor, at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.