In a world in which everything seems to be constantly evolving, from ordering your groceries via an app to opening your savings account and making your first deposit online, and there is a growing uptake of Blockchain technologies, it is safe to say that digital disruption is the new normal for consumers. It is changing how we do business and is introducing efficiency into our lives.
Organisations have become more aware of the need for digital transformation in creating value and sustainable growth for the future. Driven by accelerating digitalisation, the finance functions in most organisations are automating their processes, leading to more efficient processes and more time spent by finance professionals in partnering with business and value creation.
In the last two and half years, the impact of COVID-19 significantly increased the adoption of technology in society, the business world and the finance function − from the increased uptake of cloud-based solutions to virtual client and staff engagements and the use of robotics process automation (RPA) in automating processes. Business leaders are now making sure they are investing in the appropriate tools and platforms to respond to the change in industry and satisfy the growing need for digital technologies in order to maximise business efficiency.
Digital transformation trends in the finance function
Current digital transformation trends include the following:
- More touchless transactions as businesses automate their front office functions
- An increased uptake of Blockchain
- More cloud-based accounting platforms catering for different business requirements where users can access these from any location, even via their mobile phones
- Greater uptake of cognitive technologies for the faster and efficient performance of financial reporting and budget processes. This is achieved by using big data analytics and other machine-learning tools
- More insight-driven functions using artificial intelligence and data analysis. There is a growing trend of financial data scientists who need and are able to work cohesively with finance teams
While there is undoubtedly much more, the most common trend around is adaptability and flexibility. Perhaps the more pertinent question is how digital transformation is currently benefiting the finance function and its business model without negatively impacting internal financial controls and governance processes:
- With financial data available in real-time, the monthly, quarterly and annual reporting process has been shortened, allowing finance professionals to focus on giving insights to business rather than spending days closing the reporting process.
- The automation of business and finance processes is leading to fewer human errors and less human intervention.
- As a result of increased automation within the finance function, the annual audit process is becoming more efficient, and auditors are starting to add value to their clients instead of spending hours reconciling data points.
- Using big data analysis tools and financial data being available in real-time, the forecasting and budgeting process has been simplified. The finance function is now spending more time focusing on influencing their stakeholders to support business strategy.
- Finance professionals are now able to make better use of their time by focusing on value-adding activities to improve the decision-making process and finance staff in critical roles with the necessary experience, leadership capabilities and authority to influence business decisions.
The changing role of the finance professional
Digital transformation in finance is leading the finance function to a new role profile and is allowing finance teams to acquire techno-accountant skills. SAICA has created a competency framework that will ensure the continued relevance of chartered accountants, and which provides a comprehensive list of competencies and behaviours that should be demonstrated by candidates at the end of the pre-qualification process. The aim is to help prospective CAs(SA) and AGAs(SA) prepare for their future roles, as these are going to evolve or even change completely.
For qualified CA(SA) and AGA(SA) professionals, one of the most critical steps in responding to these imminent changes is to adapt to the transformation. While it may not change their function, experienced professionals need to value digital transformation and allow it to transform how they fulfil their function(s). It’s about having the necessary skills set (and behaviours) as a finance professional to ensure that you are prepared for the realities of digitised financial management.
The good news is that you do not need to go through a formal schooling process to acquire these skills, as many programmes are available on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy and Khan Academy which allow people to upskill on demand. The expectation is that each professional should reflect on their evolving role and career path and work to ensure continued relevance.
As finance professionals, we should not be inflexible and resistant to change, otherwise we will be left behind as the steady march of time inevitably brings innovation in unexpected ways. We should endeavour instead to be the drivers of this revolution for business by continuing to provide value-adding advice to businesses and improve the decision-making process supporting business strategy.
Sithembiso Gumede CA(SA), Finance Specialist,
Nedbank Corporate Investment Bank