As the global pandemic begins to wind down, finance leaders should congratulate themselves on guiding their teams through the most bizarre year on record. There is, however, little time to reflect on these achievements as the economy has changed irreversibly. 2021 – and beyond – hold a host of planning challenges for today’s decision-makers. At the dawn of the post-pandemic era, understanding the 5 ways to drive business growth in the post-COVID economy is crucial.
Thankfully, modern finance departments stand uniquely equipped to lead in the post-crisis future. In 2020, the CFO’s responsibilities shifted from compliance and streamlining towards strategy and change management.1 Over 80% of chief executives expect the CFO’s importance to rise after the pandemic.2
Today’s CFO will need to reframe normal, assess staff readiness, understand market changes and adopt cross-silo leadership while investing in the right technology.
Here are our top 5 tips for driving growth:
1. Reframe normal
Decision-makers will need to resist a powerful temptation to use the words typically associated with a post-vaccine world. We return, we go back to, we resume. Of course, few would seriously confuse the economy before COVID-19 with the one that ensues, but finance departments exiting the pandemic still carry years of sunk costs including long-term strategies, tech investments and digital transformation programmes. Unless CFOs interrogate pre-crisis plans and adjust as necessary, they risk prolonging recovery and wrongfooting their organisations in a still-uncertain era.
2. Prioritise staff
Finance teams face the same challenges as the rest of the UK workforce in that nearly one-fourth of employees have experienced job disruption during COVID.3 Despite this, many executives seem to have lost touch with their staff during months of remote work. Although leaders believe that their organisations do enough to train, communicate, and support mental health, only half of their employees agree.4
CFOs should identify the gaps in the communication that emerged under work from home policies. Before driving ahead with digital transformation projects, finance leaders should assess staff readiness and strive to earn buy-in from critical users. A unified workforce is essential to drive efficiency and growth.
3. Understand the (new) market
The full impact of COVID-19 may not come into focus for another decade, but a barrage of surveys has already marked key differences. The past year of business catapulted digital adoption forward by anywhere from two to seven years. Consumer markets shifted toward digital and home-based purchases, mirroring a widespread decision to save rather than spend. Buyers of products across sectors want more digital options and experiences in 2021 than ever before, and more than 3 in 4 executives expect this changed customer behaviour to continue after COVID-19.5
While the crisis deepened existing digital trends in the B2B market, corporate spending priorities have changed drastically, reflecting new stresses on cybersecurity and rates of digital transformation.6 Facing this brave new world, CFOs should collect and organise data to clearly understand the behavioural shifts across their customers, competitors, and partners. The Harvard Business Review suggests grouping them into three categories: sustained behaviours (those with no change), transformed behaviours (those changed), and collapsed behaviours (those gone for good). A deep understanding of the new market is essential to support the refinement of your post-COVID business strategy.
4. Cross-silo leadership
CFOs exit the pandemic with unprecedented influence. 82% of CEOs believe that the CFO will grow in importance over the next three to five years, a sentiment shared by only 66% of CFOs themselves.7 Finance teams have pioneered business adaptation during the crisis – the time has come for them to accept a more important seat at the table.
CFOs will increasingly need to break down silos to solve pain points across departments. Creating a free flow of information is central to formulating a unified vision. Reaching common goals will require every member of the C-Suite to collaborate more closely, act more quickly and make more confident decisions than ever before.
5. Invest in the right tech
In the days ahead, CFOs will likely find the answers from the same source that helped enterprises adapt throughout the crisis: cloud-based software.
COVID has catalysed a surge in cloud adoption—one of the core stages in digital transformation. Those working remotely without cloud were faced with two options, adapt or decline. Staying ahead of the digital curve will naturally facilitate growth in 2021.
Finance leaders should search for three key terms in post-crisis cloud initiatives: cybersecurity, collaboration, and cost savings.
During the pandemic, 40% of organisations saw an increase in cyberattacks.9 Driven out from under the umbrella of corporate networks, cybersecurity relied on VPNs, private Wi-fi, and distraction-laden home offices. CFOs should evaluate any cloud investment by several security criteria.
First, consider the data environment, as recent research suggests that some are more secure than others.10 Second, consider the individual provider’s security measures and certifications. Providers vetted by an organisation like UKAS must demonstrate cybersecurity in audits over multiple years. Cybersecurity also depends on provisions in service agreements. A provider that takes legal responsibility for, but not ownership of, client data will have a stronger incentive to protect it than a provider that assumes both.
COVID-19 drove nearly 90% of workforces into remote arrangements, forcing finance teams to master the art of the remote close. The results surprised CFOs: two-thirds reported improvements in collaboration, efficiency, and strategic focus.11 By selecting the right cloud finance system, CFOs can retain these benefits without a remote workforce. Look for systems on the multi-tenant cloud that combine built-in automation with configurable digital workflows. An ultra-modern accounting solution will purge your finance function of manual labour, granting efficiency gains and streamlining processes for any future crisis.
c. Cost savings
In a recent survey, CEOs named cost management as their top priority over the next two years.12 CFOs will likewise find value in shrewd tech investments. In addition to cybersecurity and collaboration, leaders should search for two specific functionalities in a finance solution: Robotic Process Automation and integrated Machine Learning. When paired, they enable organisations to automate a once-unthinkable range of processes – up to 75% of manual tasks, in the case of a true cloud finance solution.
Finance automation has a dual benefit. CFOs can maximise efficiency and minimise error, driving finance costs well below pre-pandemic levels. Plus, as RPA- and ML-enabled solutions automate processes, they free up resources and users across departments for work that adds value rather than tedium.
Xledger empowers 10,000+ customers worldwide to take control of their finances. We are trusted by globally reputable audit firms BDO and PwC and recognised as a leading provider of financial management software by IDC and Gartner.
Our cloud-based business management software is ISO 27001 security certified and pairs advanced BI tools with limitless scalability on a true cloud platform. We enable finance teams to transform their companies with all-in-one solutions for digital workflow, data security, and process automation.
1. Grant Thornton, “Building Your ‘New Normal’: CFOs are shifting roles to become architects of what’s next” CFO Survey, 2020.
2. ACCA/IMA, “The CFO of the Future,” 2020.
3. IBM, “COVID-19 and the Future of Business,” 2020.
6. Grant Thornton, 2021.
9. Harvey Nash and KPMG, “Everything Changed. Or did it?” CIO Survey, 2020.
10. For instance, in back-to-back studies by cloud security firm Alert Logic.
11. Grant Thornton, “CFOs aren’t waiting for normal. They’re ready now” CFO Survey 2021.