How digital technologies have elevated the human role in the finance function


Few events in modern history have proven the need for businesses to be able to adapt swiftly to changing operational environments like the Covid-19 pandemic has.

As a well-known American mathematics professor, writer, and speaker John Allen Paulos puts it: “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”

Thankfully, digital technologies have the capability to help businesses navigate many of these uncertainties.

Cloud, AI, automation, and machine learning have taken over certain mundane and tedious tasks from humans.

These technologies are particularly valuable to the finance function, as highlighted in Sage’s recent report CFO 3.0 – Digital transformation beyond financial management.

The research found that financial leaders in South African businesses regard digital technologies as essential to managing uncertainty and risks, and ensuring compliance.

Biggest challenges

Financial leaders have enormous responsibilities which include mitigating financial risks, developing strategies, and keeping up with ever-evolving finance legislation.

This was the case long before the Covid-19 outbreak started.

With the pandemic forcing businesses to carry on operating outside of the office, financial decision-makers have been challenged with ensuring compliance across a decentralised network, a scattered workforce, and a larger attack surface.

27% of the senior financial decision-makers participating in Sage’s research said they were involved with remote worker management, which means compliance has become one of their top challenges.

Overall, South African finance professionals identified the following key challenges:

  • Changing stakeholder needs.
  • Managing risk around fraud and cybersecurity.
  • Using technology to modernise business processes.
  • Staying informed on changing regulatory requirements.
  • Managing remote teams.

Remarkable resistance

Despite the additional pressure and tough operating environment, however, many of South Africa’s medium and large enterprises have flourished during this time.

44% of research participants said that Covid-19 increased demand for their services, while 49% said they had observed moderate to strong growth in organisational performance over the past year.

This was also reflected in financial performance, with 78% of businesses reporting growth in revenue in recent months.

31% of businesses reported little change in revenue, while those reporting a decline still managed to maintain profitability.

The reason behind this remarkably resolute performance is clear: 90% of CFOs agree that incorporating next-generation technology has been critical to their success.

More than half of these businesses said they are implementing advanced or cutting-edge techniques.

The end result

Digital technologies have clearly elevated the human role in the finance function.

CFOs are no longer bogged down by numbers, budgets, data integration, and reporting, and can turn their focus to changing stakeholder needs and modernising business processes.

This allows companies to position themselves to ensure they are well-prepared for any unexpected shifts in operations and legislation.

This improves the potential for growth and ensures that their customers and employees continue to prosper even in the toughest of times.

As Executive Vice President for Sage in Africa and the Middle East Pieter Bensch told Aki Anastasiou in the first episode of What’s Next in Finance, these technologies enable the CFO to re-orient the business in a direction that’s more risk-averse.

“The CFO is now driving this digital change from an accounting and risk point of view, because in the end that is what is going to make a difference for the company going forward,” Bensch stated.

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