Finance Indaba Online session reveals how to get your finance department future-fit

Nando’s CFO Simon Adams said that for finance professionals, storytelling is becoming a superpower.

Uncertainty is ongoing, so finance leaders of the future need to be able to strike a balance between the financial bottom line and being purpose-driven, said Kumba Iron Ore CFO Bothwell Mazarura.

Bothwell noted that there is a shift in the type of jobs people are doing, and the skills required are quickly changing. “You need people who can pull information from different systems including operational data, process control data, etc.,” he said. “They should then have the ability to see relationships between data sets, and support generating value as a business.”

He added that finance leaders need to be able to communicate the bigger picture to be able to influence the direction of the organisation.

Skills to paint a picture with data
Nando South Africa’s CFO Simon Adams agreed, adding that in future, “Organisations need more than people who are just accountants. They need business partners and strategists who can leverage off technology and highlight where the organisation is going based on data.”

He said that for finance professionals, storytelling Is becoming a superpower. “In finance, we get to see all functions of the business, and our job is to pass on helpful insights from our perspective. The challenge for finance leaders is getting less technical and relaying valuable information to the rest of the organisation in language that makes a difference to them. Numbers tell a story and a good storyteller conveys important information effectively.”

Simon said distilling valuable information is a skills set that is needed now and in the future, “We can train and build on it. It’s valuable and gives people a clear picture of what’s needed in the business and leads to better business results down the line.”

Continuous learning
Workday FD Brian Montgomery said Covid-19 caused an acceleration of many future plans and Workday used it as an opportunity to drive business forward. He says, however, that a culture of learning is important for the future.

“We need a different mindset with respect to learning. The needs are changing. Accountants are now involved in tech projects. Tomorrow’s finance teams need develop broader influencing skills, and so soft skills training is also needed.” He emphasises that training needs to be prioritised and leaders should have the same type of commitment to learning as addressing issues: “Learning has to be ongoing, part of the day job, not a nice to have.”

Bothwell said Covid-19 has caused businesses to ask CFOs and finance teams questions around value creation, risk, opportunities and tough ones like, “Are we going to survive?” He says the finance department of tomorrow needs to have reliable data, integrated systems, and see relationships, as well as understanding the evolving business environment: “We have been fairly successful, we are learning, but it’s clear that it’s time to accelerate.”

Brian agreed, saying that finance teams need to be freed to from backward-looking activities, to looking forward. They must be central in analysis and dynamic planning, and have a stake in ongoing planning.

Collaboration is key
Bothwell emphasised that finance teams operate in a community. “We don’t live on an island. Covid-19 showed us that we need to collaborate across functions and even competitors. We are still going through an immensely challenging time.”

Simon added that indeed, environment is a big factor in shaping the way teams are evolving. He said that while the argument for automation is sound from an efficiency and productivity perspective, in South Africa, unemployment is a tough issue.

“Reducing head count is a hard ask in South Africa,” said Simon. “So we have to have to strike a balance between automation and manual processes. We need business, government and labour to come together and create the best solutions.”