South African finance on the cusp of digital transformation

CaseWare Africa's Jodi Joseph tells CFO SA about their offering, and the impact of digital transformation.

Digital technologies have allowed finance professionals to adapt to more demanding regulations and an increased pace of change. Jodi Joseph, divisional executive at CaseWare Africa, believes that finance technology also allows for higher quality work, fewer errors, and more real-time and granular data to inform business decisions.

“The tools are simpler and more powerful than ever before. There are incredible visualisation tools available to finance. These tools provide the finance and accounting function with a path to meet the business demand for advanced analytics, efficient operations and support with strategic decision-making,” says Jodi.

The evolution of finance
Many of the changes in finance free up the CFO from mundane, production tasks. “I believe finance is evolving into an exception-management industry, and away from a production-line industry. Traditionally, every piece of finance information had to be processed – someone had to capture the data, someone had to do a reconciliation. Technology today allows the CFO to enjoy higher automation and higher accuracy than ever before. This frees up the CFO for topics that require real focus, whether that is exceptions or areas where you must apply judgement,” says Jodi.

Jodi believes that too many finance teams are still too reliant on Excel. “This means that expensive humans, very skilled CAs are still producing Excel spreadsheets. They’re still looking at historical information, rather than real-time or forward-looking information. You can’t run a big business on an Excel spreadsheet.”

The finance professional of the future has different skills, and in time all finance professionals will work on tech platforms. Jodi also anticipates that auditors will also become data specialists.

Operating during a pandemic
Anticipating a local lockdown, CaseWare moved off site on 12 March. Working from home has been seamless due to the cloud-enabled platform that CaseWare operates. In addition, the company saw an uptick in demand for its solutions. Some of CaseWare’s clients accelerated investments in digital transformation during the pandemic despite the headwinds, realising that making these strategic investments was key to surviving this, and the next crisis. The company saw attendance of its webinars rise from 200 before lockdown to over 500 delegates during lockdown.

The CaseWare team has adapted to remote working and productivity has increased. Jodi believes that the workplace will never go back to how it was before. “The team has been unbelievable. We were there to help our auditing clients operate as before and assist CFOs to make their financial deadlines. We’ve delivered more products than ever before. Many of our team members have spent the time they would have spent commuting working on the business,” comments Jodi.

CaseWare’s clients have also benefited from being able to work remotely using cloud software to collaborate with their teams and customers. “People want to be able to log in at a time that suits them, even if their accountant’s offices are closed, and access their latest financials, tax clearance certificates, and the kind of things that you need to conduct business in real time. Business operates at a quicker pace. The turnaround time demand and expectations are greater,” adds Jodi

Raising the fraud flag
Scandals that involved the big four accounting firms related to Steinhoff, VBS Mutual Bank, Tongaat Hulett and Eskom have tarnished the industry’s image. South Africa lost its top spot in its strength of auditing and reporting standards in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report of 2017-2018. Today South Africa is ranked 30th in the latest report.

When it comes to audits in the public sector, both accountability and transparency are essential. The use of technology in public sector finance systems can be used to detect errors, fraud, or mismanagement of funds, and enable the process changes required to prevent further issues. “With the right tech tools irregular transactions get caught early. Fraud patterns can be detected in non-financial data such as email. In the future, we can expect better financial governance than ever before,” comments Jodi.

Technology champions
For Jodi, successful digital transformation projects in finance need to be championed by a group of individuals who are passionate about technology. “Every business has people who are excited by the potential of technology. These are the individuals who are not afraid to try something new,” says Jodi.

Without these technology champions, projects are likely to start and fail. Leadership buy-in is also critical for success. Today, digital transformation projects are not as daunting as they were in the past. “Digital transformation projects used to require multi-million-rand investments and at least a two-year timespan. Today, it is possible to take a modular approach starting with smaller automation projects and building from there. But if you don’t start, you will be left behind,” says Jodi.

A trusted pedigree
CaseWare Africa has become renowned as one of South Africa’s leading software houses specialising in the design, development and deployment of software solutions for financial professionals. The company works with the corporate, public sector, accounting and auditing communities. CaseWare Africa is a division of listed technology firm Adapt IT.

For Jodi, South Africa is a sophisticated and demanding market where a finance professional expects technology solutions to show results from day one. “Our goal is to transform the financial ecosystem. CaseWare in South Africa has been involved with the auditing and accounting community since the ՚90s. Today we have software that helps a finance professional to achieve their goals in the quickest, most efficient, and most compliant way,” says Jodi.