Risk, growth, and the future of finance
The truth that risk is inseparable from return has been demonstrated time and again, but never was it more apparent than in the upheaval we have seen over the past few years. What this has proved is that not only should finance professionals continue to ensure they are on top of as many data points as possible, but that they have never been in a better position to transfer risk into opportunity, says Candice du Toit, EPM Consultant at Futuresense.
“As CFOs and their teams become more vital to the process of steering their businesses, they are feeling the pressure to maintain agility to react to a world in flux. Those finance leaders that have started looking at different ways to run their businesses, which necessitates reporting in a completely different way, have found that risk – when properly managed – can translate into innovation, and therefore growth,” she explains.
“Whether you are looking at analyst reports, evaluating the results of Fortune 500 companies, or hearing anecdotal evidence, it’s clear that those companies who embrace the opportunities offered by being more agile and innovative are leaving competitors behind. However, even as we see CFOs and finance professionals moving more into the role of a business partner as opposed to fulfilling a completely separate finance function, there many companies have still not embraced all the tools at their disposal to help them change risks into opportunities.”
As business demands continue to shift, the question finance leaders should be asking themselves is how they equip themselves to be prepared, especially considering predictions that by 2024, bits of legacy infrastructure will be left in functions like finance. du Toit says that while the answer obviously lies in technology, this is not a clear-cut as it sounds.
Preparing for a data-driven future
Not only do CFOs need to learn how to integrate innovative tools into the way they work, they must also reimagine the way they see themselves. Far from the traditional view of finance teams simply providing budgets, they need to view themselves as technology leaders as well as business partners integral to every area of the business du Toit says.
In many organisations, data and systems are still fragmented, and architecture and processes are rigid. Forward-thinking CFOs know this needs to change, and fast. According to Gartner, 82% of CFOs report that their organisation’s investments in digital are accelerating.
“For years, we have heard that we are heading into a data-driven future. The truth is that we are already navigating a data-driven business environment, and a combination of a solid data foundation and adaptable business processes is key to enabling growth. However, while digital tools are being used to unlock value, whether that is through the ability to intelligently automate processes like consolidation, or machine learning that’s able to detect anomalies and make recommendations that help with forecasting, this is only one side of the coin,” says du Toit.
“In data-driven decision-making, everyone needs to have access to the same version of the truth, meaning that multiple sources of data need to be connected into a single, secure, business critical source. Technology has made this relatively simple, but data-driven decision-making also requires confidence in the integrity and relevance of the data. CFOs are therefore starting to realise how vital it is for finance to build strong relationships throughout the business.”
The lens of technology
du Toit points out that a clear and strong relationship of trust between teams, stakeholders, exco and clients enables businesses to manage inevitable change more effectively. Technology provides the lens through which these relationships can inform the future of the business, but successful CFOs are learning that there is a difference between data and insights, or between commentary and storytelling, she adds.
“If there’s anything we have learned over the past few years, it’s that finance is not just about sharing figures, it’s about establishing what they mean and then conveying this effectively. The right technology – with consolidated, verifiable data – can give finance professionals a holistic view of the business, but it’s only when CFOs are plugged into all areas of the business that they can truly create value,” du Toit says.
“As organisations learn how to collaborate better, and as they continue to look for ways to become more agile, CFOs are starting to appreciate how people and technology can combine to deliver the growth today’s business environment demands. The successful finance professionals of the future will therefore need to leverage their digital tools to merge insight (so they can predict what will happen), adaptability (so they can help organisations quickly pivot to new opportunities), and talent (so they can grow the business – and also drive value) to better meet stakeholder needs.”