CFOs interrogate their role in an automated world at CFO Day

Finance leaders discussed how their companies are dealing with the evolution of automation.

Over 100 of South Africa's leading finance professionals gathered around tables at Marble restaurant in Rosebank for the first CFO Day in two years on 11 May 2022. They spent the entire day listening to industry leaders share their insights, lessons and accounts of the last two years and indulged in sought after conversations with their peers. 

With everyone gathered around the trademark marble tables, Jordaan Burger, vice president: finance, Sage AMEAP revealed that hiring the right people is vital.

“The hiring aspect [in an automated world] is important. We need a technologically savvy workforce. We need to get away from crunching the numbers all the time and focus on telling the story. People have this fear that automation will take a lot of things away from us,” said Jordaan.

However, having people who can mine copious amounts of data, is crucial for a company in an automated world, he said.

Asked what keeps him awake at night, he said:

“The unpredictability of where the economy is and the world is going.”

Also partaking in the discussion was Sayuri Govender, reporting and analytics group head at Standard Bank, who said the company used the Covid-19 pandemic to accelerate its strategy on automation.

“We use the true north matrix to understand exactly what the 15 key requirements are of the business and pull all the data across each of our business units in the country, in order to make sure we are focusing on the things that we need to and we can deliver to 2022 targets,” she said.

Focusing on the matrix has led the company to do away with traditional ways of doing budgets, and focus instead on scenario analysis.

“The point is to take the manually intensive nature of the work we have to do to give us back the time that we need to tell the right story. We encourage our people to be future ready by creating learning as key magic,” she said.

She said it was important with the change happening in the world, that their staff bought into automation.

“It’s important that we construct and create change together.”

Like Jordaan, Sayuri said it is difficult to find the right talent and as a result, Standard Bank has started graduate programmes to get a pool of talent. “We are all fighting for the same pool of talent,” she noted.

Dineo Molefe, CFO at MTN said with more sophistication happening around the world, it was important that finance teams were at the forefront of what their companies were about. “Everything is changing very fast in the telco industry. By the time you report at the end of the month, it’s like history. The pace at which we are evolving does not allow us to be history tellers,” Dineo said.

She said it was important for companies to identify the drivers of their business and understand the context of the business.

“We are on a journey of finance evolution. We had so many roles we had to go out of our organisation for.”

To keep up with automation demands, Dineo said her company had to look for IT specialists and commercially minded people, among other skills they were looking for. Looking for talent, made MTN realise they had a gap, she said, adding that MTN has opened an academy to address the gap.

“We need to continue to challenge ourselves on how we are creating value and empower our teams to drive the right conversations. We have to wear the hat of the CEO even though the hat is not with us,” she concluded.

CFO Day was held in partnership with Momentum Corporate, Workday, ACCA, Coupa, Ince, Kyriba, SoluGrowth and Transparent.