Over the past 18 months, every South African business has had to re-evaluate its operations, strategy and financial assumptions. This time of change and strain has put the role of financial professionals under the spotlight, highlighting the pivotal role they play in helping organisations drive growth, digital transformation and data-driven decision-making
Against the backdrop of a pandemic, finance leaders have embraced an even more strategic role in the business. Customer behaviours and business operations have changed during social distancing, supply chains have been interrupted, and revenue uncertainty and unpredictability have yet to be dispelled. What’s more, hybrid working models and online customer interactions are here to stay.
Recent Sage research conducted shows the levels of change and disruption most South African businesses face. Among 313 leaders and financial professionals from 170 businesses with revenues of at least R14 million, 89% reported operating in a remote/hybrid working environment as of August 2021.
COVID-19 is not just a health crisis
Alongside the human and health challenges of COVID-19, most businesses are facing deep financial questions, too. More than half (52%) said their business costs have increased. In comparison, 48% reported challenges in managing costs and cashflow, while 45% agreed they are facing difficulties forecasting demand and revenue due to uncertainty.
Six out of ten agreed COVID-19 has negatively impacted their business, while 50% said they expect COVID-19 to continue to have a negative impact for the next 18 months. This has translated into more pressure on financial professionals, with 83% reporting that business finance and accounting has become more complex and 65% saying their workload has increased.
On the upside, the central role of finance during the pandemic has heightened the importance of financial professionals to their businesses and shareholders. Nearly all of the professionals in our survey agreed that CFOs had been more directly involved in determining the overall business strategy. Their value is more apparent to others across the organisation, including the board and C-suite.
To chart their path in this changing world, CFOs are becoming digital transformation experts and data storytellers. Their role is no longer simply about reporting the numbers but also articulating the future of the business. This has created new imperatives in transforming financial systems to provide real-time data access and upskilling financial teams in data and technology skills.
Facing the challenges of hybrid working models
Today, finance teams are overwhelmed by data overload, manual tasks and struggle to access systems remotely. While they recognise that developing a new hybrid work culture in the finance team is important, they also face challenges such as improving data security and remote access to systems.
For that reason, one major trend we can expect to unfold over the next year is a significant investment in modernising financial and accounting platforms. The vast majority of businesses (91%) said they intend to be using cloud-based systems within the following year. This will help finance teams reduce manual admin, streamline access to data and collaborate remotely.
Whatever the next 18 months will bring, the good news is that finance teams have proven their resilience and learned lessons that will help them steer their businesses through further change. As we move beyond the pandemic, it is with a renewed appreciation for the central role of finance and opportunities for financial professionals to take an even more prominent role in the business.
Jordaan Burger, Vice President Finance, Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific at Sage