Finance teams must leave their comfort zone and champion big data and forward looking analytics to remain relevant, according to a report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), and NTT DATA.

The report noted that finance professionals using forward-looking tools are vital to their organisations. These include predictive analytics which uses existing data to make statistical models of what is predicted to happen in the future, and prescriptive analytics goes a further step by suggesting a course of action from a set of options. Utilising these two forward-looking disciplines, organisations can predict future performance and be helped with making the best decision available to them.

However, a survey of 1,150 accountancy professionals showed many were slow to leave behind traditional reporting of results.

ACCA head of business management and author of the report Clive Webb said: “Our survey shows some reluctance to move from looking backwards to looking ahead. Traditional reports are in the comfort zone for most finance teams. But the most progressive and successful finance teams are those that use data to look ahead to remain relevant in organisations.”

The Analytics in Finance and Accountancy report was also based on 30 detailed interviews with finance leaders and data specialists from a range of industries across the globe.

CA ANZ chief executive Ainslie van Onselen said: “The research highlights an industry evolving from handling just financial data towards dealing with a diverse array of financial and non-financial information and data. This is enabling organisations to make data-driven decisions more quickly, driving tangible results.

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“One example is the use of different data types and predictive analytic tools by finance teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has enabled finance teams to truly partner with the business, providing them with the insights needed to make better faster data informed decisions amidst the uncertainty presented by the global pandemic.”

The report identified five key areas of focus for businesses to create a data-centric culture, including strong governance, improving big data capabilities, making sure an organisation has the right capabilities and opportunities to educate employees about data literacy, showing how insights can help to make strategic decisions and using predictive and prescriptive analytics.