Covid-19 has caused large-scale disruption for individuals, businesses and societies worldwide. Organisations needed to act quickly to protect employees, customers, suppliers and balance sheets, pushing finance and accounting professionals to the forefront, writes Andrew Harding chief executive – management accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA & CIMA)
Throughout the crisis, they provided vital support and guidance to business leaders to help address immediate concerns about safety and survival, stabilise the business in the short to medium-term, reduce uncertainty and position it for recovery.
The rise of the ‘value partner’
Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck the world, the role of finance and accounting professionals was quickly evolving to encompass new responsibilities, moving from controllers to strategic business partners. Finance and accounting professionals have been drawn to the centre of decision-making as business leaders pulled in all available resources to keep their organisations afloat.
Other departments and colleagues have also proactively sought support from the finance team to help develop new partnerships, manage risks, restructure the business and respond to changing customer expectations so their organisations can thrive in a post-pandemic world. In recent months, the finance team has truly become the ‘value partner’ that business desperately needed.
Achieving sustainability objectives
The coronavirus pandemic has brought organisations’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda into sharp focus. Investors, shareholders and customers alike are now asking for organisations to step up their game on climate-related and wider environmental, social and governance challenges. Organisations have started looking at how to incorporate sustainable practices into their business models. Finance teams have a key role in driving sustainable strategic and operational decisions, including risk management. They do this by providing reliable and relevant accounting and management information, including financial and non-financial measures, to ensure that organisations can confidently take important decisions and deliver their ESG strategy.
Finance and accounting professionals can help their organisations understand the scale of the challenge lying ahead, come up with viable solutions, ensure they are properly implemented and accurately measure results. From creating an ESG framework to revamping the organisation’s pricing policy, they have a pivotal role in providing business intelligence to support strategy and influence decision making. Without the rigour and business acumen of finance teams, it may prove impossible to truly embed sustainability and responsible business practices into “business as usual”.
The power of digital transformation
The rapid spread of new technologies accelerated by the pandemic has forced many businesses, including their finance teams, to adapt their digital capabilities for the post-pandemic future.
Many finance leaders are now further investing in technology to automate some of their organisation’s finance processes and improve efficiency. This gives finance teams the opportunity to spend less time on transactional work and free up time for finance and accounting professionals to play a more influential role within the business, support strategic decision-making, and impact business results.
Bridging the skills gap
Digital transformation is not solely about upgrading IT systems and working faster, it is also about people and their ability to adapt to change. The pace of change is not showing any sign of slowing down; finance and accounting professionals must keep up to stay relevant.
They now need to continually learn and upskill themselves, from keeping their digital skills sharp to enhancing their soft skills – this will be critical to truly capitalise on the potential of digital transformation and better manage challenges ahead. All of that requires a culture change. Finance and accounting professionals of the future must cultivate curiosity, utilise strategic and critical thinking skills to solve complex problems, and manage ever-evolving risks.
The empowered finance team
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many finance teams were already undergoing transformation. But the shock created by the pandemic to organisations across the world has accelerated the need to transform traditional finance teams into a forward-looking and value-creating function.
We are now in a transition period – one where accounting and finance professionals have an opportunity to learn the lessons from the past year and prepare for the future. As we move into the post-pandemic world, we will find the world has changed forever and finance teams must change with it.