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Advanced World 2021 – Key Takeouts for CFOs
Blog //28-05-2021

Advanced World 2021 – Key Takeouts for CFOs

by Andrew Hicks, Former Chief Financial Officer

The disruption of Covid-19 back in 2020 saw the beginning of businesses urgently turning to their CFOs and Finance Directors to steer the ship. As a result, their roles evolved overnight with their remits continuing to branch out to digital transformation, personable skills and agile decision-making.

No longer just accountants looking at figures in hindsight; CFOs and Finance Directors emerged as strategic business leaders with a remit more like the COO.

Finance teams also had to adapt to these fast-paced changes through digital transformation with 59% of businesses having already placed the adoption of Cloud software and technology as their spending priority, along with 77% of business leaders confirming that the shift to a “digital first” mindset would shape the future.

Using Cloud technology while working from home helped many finance teams maintain strong collaboration, automate mundane tasks, and readily provide up to date reporting. However, technology was not seen as a silver bullet. The CFO and Finance Director also had to lead by example through problem solving, personable skills and resilience to ensure business survival and continuity.

This year, Advanced World 2021 was held virtually through a multitude of live webinars with interactive Q&A sessions. Although a stark contrast to previous years’ in-person talks and networking, this year demonstrated that no matter where our speakers and attendees were located, technology would undoubtedly be the route to the future of finance. Read on to learn about our key takeouts for CFOs…

How have finance teams changed since the pandemic?

It’s been extremely tough for finance teams working throughout the pandemic. Business disruptions made the difficult task of keeping up with the numbers, even harder. Factor in demand from directors and the board for day-to-day financial reports to make informed decisions - the pressure has been on.

These ongoing circumstances posed the question of whether the digital tools at their disposal enabled them to make accurate assessments during a time where accuracy and speed in providing financial data had never been more vital for business survival.

These challenges were further amplified through the lockdown restrictions in place which removed the stimulus of an office environment where people were driven by direct team collaboration and relied on schedules.

Enter Microsoft Teams, numerous Zoom calls, trying to create a makeshift office space in your home and the uncertainty of where the country stood with the pandemic. These were all contributing factors to employee mental health and well-being while working from home. It was clear that this human crisis required a human touch from CFOs and Finance Directors who needed to grow their personal skills over the past year.

“Being empathetic is a new soft skill that CFOs have had to develop while everyone has been working from home. Taking the time to pick up and identify mental health and wellbeing is now more important than ever.” - Ian Wright – ICAEW

There have been many discussions around “the new normal”, hybrid working and productivity, and what this means for finance teams moving forward. Whether the future holds full-time working from home, commuting to the office 5 days a week, or a combination of the two - Finance teams need to remain flexible and open to new ways of working during the post-pandemic recovery.

Widening of the talent pool

Managing teams that were 100% dispersed, hiring on a remote basis, and onboarding new employees brought new challenges never faced before by CFOs and Finance Directors.

Seemingly overnight, they had to be digitally savvy in the adoption of new Cloud technology, gain buy-in and provide training for the finance team focusing on the key areas of analytics, scenario modelling and planning to support business decisions in real time.

Before the pandemic, the idea of hiring new team members 100 miles away from the office location posed a lot of questions. How could they collaborate with the existing localised finance team? What would the on-boarding process look like? Who should keep them updated on what discussions are being held in the office?

The adoption of Cloud technology by finance teams has broken down the barriers of geographical restrictions when hiring new members of staff. Finance Directors can now reach a nationwide, or even global, talent pool which goes deeper than ever before.

The future of recruiting and retaining talent in the finance team will require Finance Directors to step out of their comfort zones. Bringing new talent into the fold will require flexibility and creativity to set the stage for achieving the additional skills needed as the workplace continues to undergo change.

Agility matters

Before the pandemic, businesses saw the migration to the Cloud as an ongoing incremental process. But what Covid-19 did was get rid of the barriers and resistance to digital transformation.

‘Be more agile’ was a phrase that quickly took the forefront in the world of finance and accounting. Technology quickly became the savior over the last year with digital transformation jump-starting the change in new ways of working.

Adopting Cloud technology, keeping their teams safe, maintaining productivity, building remote teams, remotely onboarding new starters and providing real-time reports daily were all added to the long list of new priorities for CFOs and Finance Directors during the pandemic.

The pandemic fast-forwarded 5 years of the digital transformation into the space of a year. CFOs and Finance Directors quickly learnt that what was once considered a 1-3 year IT integration plan, was now speeding up into 1 month implementation of Cloud software which required agility. CFOs and Finance Directors therefore needed to adopt a transformation mindset during the current crisis.

“Cloud software isn’t here to “replace” but to advance the operations of businesses. Implementing new Cloud software is one of the most influential ways to create and build a newer, more agile and productive working model.” – Tim Adler - Editor, Growth Business Magazine

The effect of the pandemic has been to embrace digital accounting software, which is now engrained for the long term. So far, we have seen tools like automation, AI and Cloud finance and accounting solutions empower finance teams to react quicker to situations by analysing a vast amount of data at their fingertips.

“Adapt or sink” is the mentality of many CFOs and Finance Directors looking to position their finance team and business to thrive post-pandemic. Cloud technology is here to stay, and will help shape finance leaders and their teams as the strategic, agile heartbeat of every business.

“One thing’s for sure, this new way of working is a one-way street which needs to be done with purpose and authenticity.” - Mark Lewis - Rutherford Cross

How Covid changed the role of the Finance Director forever

Tim Adler, Editor at Small Business, recently discussed the impact of the last 12 months on finance teams, detailing what the future may look like. He agrees that the future consists of a deepening talent pool, a greater emphasis on agility, and widespread adoption of technology. 

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Andrew Hicks

Andrew Hicks


Former Chief Financial Officer

Andrew joined OneAdvanced in December 2015 with 15 years’ experience in senior finance roles. He is now leading the Group’s strategic and operational finance, legal and HR departments.

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