The entire C-suite is undergoing a transformation journey, fuelled by data and digital experiences. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is also a central player in this seismic digital shift. The pandemic has only accelerated this evolution, as companies are increasing their investments in digital transformation. As the level of technology investment increases in size and speed, the CFO is expected to place a higher premium on digital skills so as to create a clear differentiator for the finance function, and the business at large. In an exclusive interaction with CXOToday, Doreen Remmen, Chief Financial Officer, Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), discusses how technology is changing the evolving role of CFOs and how tech-savvy finance executives can sustain their business and boost financial performance in the Covid-era.
CXOToday: Digital and mobile technologies is transforming the finance function and changing the way financial professionals are doing their jobs. As a CFO, how have you adapted to these changes?
Doreen Remmen: Technology is evolving very quickly, revolutionizing businesses, and providing the potential for CFOs to reconfigure finance processes and drive business insights through big data and analytics. However, this comes with added pressures on CFOs to transform their finance functions and to drive better services to the business at zero cost impact. Finance and accounting professionals also have a greater role to play in strategy validation and execution because the environment is more complex and quick-changing, thus calling on the analytical skills CFOs can bring to the table. CFOs need to improve their teams’ ability to manage large data sets in order to understand the business risks and impact of new ventures for their organizations. The new finance skillset will be anchored on data science, predictive and prescriptive analytics, and business partnering. Right now, this means becoming fluent in digital transformation, and in the future, this means employing AI or robots to work alongside the finance teams.
CXOToday: How is the new post-COVID-19 scenario likely to impact the finance profession? What challenges or opportunities does it bring to the CFO and his team?
Doreen Remmen: The finance profession has traditionally been built around technical facts, operational functions, and a logical flow of information, and the new normal brings several opportunities and challenges in the finance and accounting world. The influence of this new reality on the finance profession would be the increased level of investment in technology, focus on R&D, etc. The role hasn’t changed but the need to adapt to new ways of communicating and working together given the remote working situation is indeed critical. Also, adapting to the current economic frameworks to enable sustainability is a key business change.
CXOToday: CFOs are collaborating with other C-suites and are also donning multiple hats as they play a key role in performance management, technology strategy, and talent development. How do you see this transition?
Doreen Remmen: CFOs have a pivotal role in driving change within companies. The gamut of roles that report to the CFO role has changed dramatically. The challenges of globalization are creating a need for finance leaders to develop a finance function that performs effectively on the global stage and that embraces diversity. In the past, finance specific roles existed in their own silos. Today, they address all aspects of the business, from HR to management and technology further changing and transforming their role into a cross-functional one. This is a proactive and organic progression, given the interdisciplinary understanding finance and accounting professionals have of how the various aspects of business eventually connect. CFO functions are at the forefront of digitalization and help create value through strategic leadership. The CFO role has gradually become more center stage and has taken on a more strategic hue.
CXOToday: As finance head of your organization, how are you improvising your financial model to cope with the current crisis?
Doreen Remmen: Due to the COVID-19 induced pandemic, it is crucial to assess the situation to adapt the financial model to building a stronger business capable of withstanding the test of time. Cash flow deserves special attention. Let me share the five tips for businesses to navigate these challenging times:
Cashflow considerations: Understanding the cash and working capital needs is the most important first step in any cash flow management strategy. Consider assessing your cashflow situation for multiple time frames, such as 60 days, 90 days, and six months. Each of these time frames may require further consideration of different scenarios.
Document expected payments: An important first step is documenting all your payments to get a complete picture. Work through what your revenues, expenses, and cash flow will look like over the time frame you manage.
Apply the 80/20 rule: After assessing the situation, identify the 20% of customers that bring you 80% of your revenue, and focus your attention on collecting what you can from them. Prioritize existing and long-term relationships over newer ones; those are the customers who are most likely to understand and be willing to work with you.
Consider factoring: If your accounts receivable is significant, factoring may be another option. If you consider this alternative, make sure you understand the terms of any agreement so you can approximate these costs for your cash flow projections.
Operating costs: Reach out to vendors and ask for payment term extensions.
CXOToday: How according to you can finance and accounting professionals can up-skill themselves to accelerate their career progression?
Doreen Remmen: There is a significant focus on the public health impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social implications are no less profound. Businesses across sectors have been affected and a new economic order could affect market dynamics and increase unforeseen challenges. To face up to situations such as these, finance and accounting professionals will need to acknowledge the importance of professional re-skilling or up-skilling, today more than ever. Education and learning platforms across the world have given free access to their resources for people to make use of and improve their knowledge and skills. Beyond such resources, reskilling and upskilling could help create leaner and more agile teams that are able to perform multiple functions. Be it on an individual or organizational scale, upskilling and reskilling stand to become a fundamental means of attaining the skills and knowledge needed in order to recuperate from the present crisis. Implementing a learning organizational approach could also be great for employee retention, not just business continuity.