We recently commissioned our 2022/23 Finance Trends Report so we could delve into the latest perceptions of those within finance. This involved surveying close to 700 finance professionals, including individuals from a variety of roles and seniority levels.
With these findings in mind, we thought we would dive even deeper into the survey, to really make sense of what it all means. So, we organised a Finance Trends Roundtable which you can watch on-demand by clicking here.
Due to factors such as the pandemic, new legislation, emerging technologies, evolving work patterns, poor economic conditions, and the ‘Great Resignation’, it has never been more important to understand the concerns and priorities of finance employees.
Some of the findings were particularly eye-opening. For example, the finance sector appears to be slow to adopt Cloud technology. They also struggle more with working from home compared to other sectors. On top of this, there’s a great hunger from finance teams to get involved with business strategy. But they have been struggling to access the data they need when they need it.
This roundtable brought together senior finance professionals and influencers, so they could discuss the report, the key themes it highlights, and what it means for UK businesses (both now and in the future).
The conversation was hosted by Nathan Ollier (Vice President, Public Sector and Field Service – Advanced), and the rest of the panel consisted of Nick Levine (Chartered accountant and Fintech consultant), Kevin Reed (Freelance journalist and consultant), Emily Brady (Financial Controller – Walsall Housing Group), Steve Rogers (Finance Business Partner – Advanced), and Nadine Sutton (Group Product Manager – Advanced).
Here are a few of the highlights from this fascinating discussion…
“There’s a hunger for finance professionals to get more involved with business strategy – what do you think is driving this hunger?”
Kevin Reed answer:
“Firstly, we’re a generation into businesses realising that the ability to make forward-facing decisions requires a lot of great information, and a lot of that is financial information. But that information has to be in context. In other words, the most senior finance professionals in an organisation must have an understanding of where the business wants to head. So, where finance plays a huge role on the compliance side of things, I think the real value-creation comes from the finance function helping managers and the board to be best informed when making decisions…”
Perhaps this realisation about the potential of financial data has put finance employees in a particularly strong position. After all, they are the gatekeepers of this important commodity.
But as Kevin highlights, it’s beneficial for both the finance function and the wider business if those within the finance team are involved with strategic conversations. If they have greater awareness of the company’s objectives (and its biggest challenges) they’re more capable of serving up the right financial data.
This increased tactical contribution also ties in with other trends that have been taking place. Finance professionals now have more time to collaborate with other departments thanks to automation. And CFOs have taken on more of a strategic role in the past few years, helping CEOs with key decisions during testing times.
“One of the challenges that has been highlighted is access to data and systems. This seems like quite an elementary challenge. Can you tell us why you think there’s such a problem with accessing data and systems?”
Nadine Sutton answer:
“There are two sides to this. I think where physical systems are concerned you’ve got that physical access. Where a lot of legacy systems are on-premise it’s that connectivity. And I think this is shown through Covid and increased working from home, that actually getting access to those systems at all has proven tricky (whether you need a VPN or remote desktop to get to them). There are some tasks that are just impossible when working from home and not being in the office. Things such as just scanning supplier invoices and mail being deposited in offices. This is where moving towards the Cloud or electronic processes will help…”
Nadine highlights that the shift towards remote working happened rapidly due to the pandemic. So, it was difficult for businesses to adapt to this change, especially when there are some activities that simply can’t be done anywhere other than the office.
This is perhaps even truer within finance. Many finance functions will be unwilling to change their approach at the drop of a hat, as they may have traditional methods that have proven successful over many years.
But Nadine has also presented this accessibility issue as an opportunity for businesses. She states that there’s no need for some of these tasks to be completed manually anymore. There are Cloud-based systems that can automate activities like invoicing and bank reconciliation. This saves people time while removing the barrier of their geographic location.
“One of the interesting things that came back in the data was that finance professionals in particular are the cohort of staff who are more likely to do work before or after working hours. Is this just down to the amount of work they’ve got to do?”
Emily Brady answer:
“So, this definitely resonates with me, not only personally, but within the team that I’m responsible for. I am seeing colleagues work really long hours, including evenings and weekends. These aren’t behaviours that, as a leader, I endorse or encourage. That makes me really mindful of the behaviours I display. Within my team, this behaviour is definitely driven from a desire to deliver an excellent service to our stakeholders and provide high-quality data in a timely manner…”
Those in the finance sector are widely known for working long hours. They have to contend with reporting periods (such as month-end), at which point they must complete gruelling shifts. There is also a general expectation for these employees to work late too, regardless of the time of year.
However, Emily makes the point that, although her team do tend to work late, there is no expectation from her for them to do this. They do this of their own accord to create better outcomes for others. This perhaps dispels the idea that this attitude always stems from leaders.
But then, aside from the desire to complete important work, where else does this behaviour come from? Perhaps there is more of a systemic problem in the wider finance realm. If finance professionals are unable to complete their objectives in the given time, it possibly means they’re under-resourced. This is another area where technology can help, enhancing the capacity of employees by removing bottlenecks and boosting efficiency.
Other topics that came up during the conversation included the idea of finance teams getting bogged down with manual tasks, the impact of AI on the finance realm, the measures finance leaders can take to improve financial performance, the cost of doing nothing, and the benefits of data-first and digital-first approaches.
If you’d like to gain even more insights from these experts, such as how Emily Brady ensures her finance team have a good work/life balance, or why Steve Rogers thinks finance professionals are more effective in an office environment, then be sure to watch the Finance Trends Roundtable in full.