Evolving while bracing for a second wave

Some finance departments are using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to ramp up resiliency efforts.

As the first wave of COVID-19 continues to traverse the globe and the threat of a second wave looms, business leaders are working harder than ever to make their organisations resilient and agile. 

The rapid evolution spurred by the pandemic is arguably an upside of the crisis. According to the June PwC US CFO Pulse Survey, 72% of finance leaders believe the pandemic will make their organisations more resilient and agile in the long run, while 53% say the new ways they are serving customers will put them in a better position down the road.

In a recent videoconference call, members of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Americas Regional Advisory Panel (AmRAP) shared their thoughts on how their organisations are evolving to deal with the continued uncertainty ushered in by COVID-19.

Digital mindsets spurred by the pandemic must endure. Many organisations have developed or strengthened their digital muscles as a result of COVID-19, and as the world transitions to the “next normal”, leaders should avoid letting those muscles atrophy.

According to the PwC US CFO Pulse Survey, 32% of CFOs surveyed are looking to tech-driven solutions to reinvent their businesses.

Some AmRAP members say that the crisis has provided the impetus to take advantage of things like remote work, cloud technology, automation, digital signatures, and more.

Members are planning to increase investments in things such as IT infrastructure, so their systems can better handle the added stress of remote work. They are also considering what tools they need to invest in to improve forecasting, such as Python, which can help quickly turn the crank on forecasting engines.

Since it’s going to be a challenge maintaining a more frequent cadence of scenario planning and forecasting, they believe the investment will be worth it.  

Leaders will need to find the right balance between remote and in-person work. As offices slowly begin to reopen, leaders may find that some employees want to remain working from home, while others are eager to return to the office. It could be a challenge for an organisation to figure out what its middle ground looks like — a compromise that ensures employee health while fostering productivity and engagement.

Each organisation’s transition back into the office is going to depend on factors including their location, industry, and existing infrastructure, and some companies may continue allowing remote work in a post-COVID-19 world. According to the PwC CFO Pulse Survey, 54% of CFOs intend to make remote work a permanent option.

AmRAP members anticipate a struggle to strike the right balance between remote and in-person work. While most were pleasantly surprised by how productive their teams have been while working from home, they acknowledge missing many aspects of the workplace.   

Some members have grown weary of online interactions and miss the unexpected conversations and spontaneous coffee meetings only possible in an office setting. It has also been difficult to avoid burnout, as the distinction between work and home life has been significantly blurred. And for those who have hired new employees or have recently become head of a new team, building relationships has been much more difficult through a computer screen than it would have been face-to-face.  

Organisations need dynamic plans that can flex. Forecasting has been extremely challenging in the current environment, and some organisations have shifted their strategy to incorporate more real-time data and a wide range of expectations. Planning needs to consider everything from the worst to best case scenarios, with the ability to flex for any outcome.

While it is tempting to adopt a myopic strategy focused on the present, members argue that organisations must continue to look ahead and make assumptions, as keeping an eye on the future will allow you to better anticipate what might be coming down the pike.

Effective business partnering is more important than ever. Finance business partnering has always been crucial for organisational decision-making, but it is arguably even more important during black swan events like COVID-19, because every function needs to be working with the most up-to-date information in order to weather the crisis.

Business silos have begun to break down within some organisations as a result of the pandemic. For example, one AmRAP member has noticed an increased interest in the finance function from the sales team, who have been asking about things like accounts receivable.  

As these opportunities present themselves, finance professionals need to be able to communicate effectively with other departments in a way that clearly answers their questions and improves decision-making across the organisation.

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how management accountants can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit FM's coronavirus resources page.

— Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, is chief executive–Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Nate Fredrickson is the regional vice president, the Americas, at the Association. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at