The digital revolution transforming finance

The pandemic radically transformed the way that organisations, especially finance teams, work. Richard Kerr, who recently joined software company Advanced as CFO, shares his experiences and reveals his insights into the digital revolution of finance

What’s the biggest shift you’ve seen in the use of technology by the finance function over the past two years?
Arguably the biggest shift is the move to new ways of working around forecasting, budgeting and processing VAT returns. By automating the manual processes, my team has been able to focus on higher-value work, in turn, significantly reducing the amount of manual work required. With that uninterrupted focus, enhanced data analytics and instant reporting, we can make faster decisions about business operations with the confidence that our data is accurate.

How has your company embraced hybrid working?
We want our employees to make hybrid working work for them. Some colleagues will want to be in the office full time, while others will want to blend working from home with commuting. To support the transition, we are launching a ‘Connected Working’ programme to encourage team members to return to the office on a more regular basis. We are also empowering our teams to tell us which days they want to be in the office. Several activities have been planned, including live training sessions and team collaboration events to support our employees as we operate in what will be a hybrid working environment in the future.

What effect has hybrid working had on productivity and how do you maintain engagement and communications?
Adopting a cloud accounting software system has helped to bridge the physical gap between colleagues, enabling them to work together more productively on the same server, access the information they need and share documents instantly. I’m able to see the outcome of their work wherever they are based.
To maintain collaboration and engagement, you need a framework for scheduling appraisals, feedback sessions and team meetings. For those operating a permanent remote-working policy, it’s important to schedule face-to-face meetings with staff throughout the year to boost engagement and social interaction.

The right technology significantly enhances the integral role of the finance function and, importantly, enables the CFO to act as the CEO’s sounding board

Advanced’s annual business trends survey found that 70% of senior finance professionals have limitations in their current technology that hold them back when working remotely. How does this impact the finance team and the business?
Using outdated technology makes it challenging for any finance team to meet these new demands while remaining productive and efficient. The right technology significantly enhances the integral role of the finance function and, importantly, enables the CFO to act as the CEO’s sounding board. This strengthens the relationship between the two and the overall performance of the finance team, enabling them to provide intelligence and analysis that improves business decision-making. Technology can also increase automation and reduce manual processes, enabling CFOs to reduce the costs of the finance function.

What advice do you have for organisations wanting to digitally transform their finance function?
Successful implementation of digital transformation relies on good communication. A CFO needs to invest the time to listen to the team, address their concerns, questions and opinions, and explain the benefits of the changes to them and to their work. Building trust in this way reassures employees and helps to secure their buy-in for digital transformation.

What are the risks for those not prioritising digital adoption?
The pandemic has massively accelerated the speed of digital adoption by businesses, so the most obvious risk is falling behind the competition. With capabilities around automation, data analytics and instant reporting, digital finance solutions increase the speed, accuracy and efficiency of the finance team’s work. They make it easier to comply with changes to legislation, as many software solutions are regularly updated with compliance in mind, and offer more protection against malicious security threats. Digital prioritisation is essential for business.

What successful digital transformation projects has your business undertaken?
With the global shift to remote and hybrid working, we had to find more effective ways of communicating and collaborating with colleagues, which included the adoption of Microsoft Teams as our instant messaging service. This enables us to stay connected and conduct virtual meetings via video chat.
We are also adopting some of the new digital systems we provide to others. For example, by rolling out our Cloud HR system to the wider business, managers have access to all HR functionality on any device, anywhere - from booking annual leave and logging sickness, to developing a personal development plan and booking training.
We’ve made our new MyWorkplace platform available internally, allowing all staff to create their own unique virtual work environment with access to specialised functionality that can assist with their typical daily tasks. This also serves to boost productivity.

Many UK businesses have struggled to retain top talent. What is your talent retention strategy?
Talent acquisition is a major challenge for every organisation. However, with the ‘great resignation’, retaining talent, particularly in finance, isn’t just about losing staff to competitors, but also losing them to other life choices, such as career breaks and self-employment.
To retain valuable talent you need to understand people’s motives for wanting to leave and ensure you offer a working environment that reflects their needs and meets their expectations. Like every business, during the pandemic we had to be agile and make changes that helped our teams feel engaged, fulfilled and able to produce their best work wherever they were based.

How crucial are the best technologies to talent retention?
Technology can have a huge impact on your ability to attract and retain top talent, with certain expectations around digital tools, particularly among Gen Z employees. Without the right technology, people can become disillusioned and more inclined to head for the door. Providing teams with regular opportunities to master new technology gives them the chance to develop and to have a stronger sense of loyalty to a company that is invested in them and their career.

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