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The finance function as we know it is evolving. 

Since the dawn of time, the traditional finance department has been viewed as a ‘collective of bean counters.’Their days would be filled with manual admin, working through spreadsheet after spreadsheet, making the numbers add up. 

But fast forward to today, and the role digital transformation is playing means we’re seeing finance teams and leaders quickly become strategic partners, helping CEOs pave the way to business success. 

According to Pleo’s State of Spending report for 2023, 98% of businesses said that the role of their CFO has changed. 

In our recent webinar, The CFO agenda: Key financial trends shaping 2024, we sat down with industry experts, Ross Latta, Co-founder and CEO of Macrofin, Oliver Wimshurst, FinOps Lead at Rora, and Faith Metobo, Senior Finance Manager at Blinkist, to discuss all things the future of finance. 

A shift in mindset

Finance teams are adding more value to businesses than ever before, and this is down to them getting time back to focus on more strategic work and helping to pursue innovation. And recent research supports her claim. A report on the role of the CFO from McKinsey Global Survey backed this idea too, saying finance professionals are frequently involved in long-term strategy and management decisions, and two-thirds are involved in digital transformation.

To keep this momentum up and help finance teams unlock even more potential, leaders need to support them. 

But how?

Introduce systems fit for forward-thinking finance teams

Leaders need to work with their finance teams by implementing systems that encourage automation (where possible) and improve accuracy, as well as coaching the team to be more commercially-driven and build closer relationships with the rest of the business. After all, finance is the source of truth when it comes to data and reporting.  

“Accountants' mindsets are changing to be more focused on technology. But in saying that, we need to make sure leaders are giving the support to their teams to make sure they can form these more strategic goals,” Ross Latta said.

“Accountants spend a lot of time reconciling data, so you need to make sure your systems and processes and compliance function is working and producing accurate data.”

Promote cross-functional collaboration 

For a long time, finance teams have been siloed, typically ‘staying in their lane’ with manual data entry and endless receipt chasing. Sadly, teams that work individually often get stuck in a rut and are unable to see the bigger picture.

But by working together, businesses not only gain different perspectives, but unlock unforeseen opportunities, especially when we’re talking about data-driven decisions. 

This is something Faith Metobo urges other companies to work on when it comes to understanding cash flow and setting the business up for success.  

“Who is the person that knows about cash flow more than the person who's actually making the payments? They know what these payments are, they know what's happening there. But it's an analyst who's having to ask these questions,” Faith said.

“You have to collaborate. We have meetings around this [at Blinkist], and we talk about these things together. It also builds a sense of continuing improvement around and transforming your role, and ultimately the finance function.”

How digital transformation empowers finance teams

Technology is changing the role of the finance teams, and with this, expectations are changing too. With simpler tasks being automated, there’s more responsibility on finance to drive the business forward.

“We're tantalisingly close to automating a lot of the simpler tasks, and this leaves the finance team with a great opportunity to become business partners, and provide in-depth analysis. The finance team is at this very privileged intersection across all these different data sources and across the business,” Oliver Wimshurst added. 

“Ultimately the way the business wins is by generating more cash, and the finance team can really help do that and help the business win as a whole.”

Where should businesses start with digital transformation?

Traditional ways of doing business have shifted from tedious Excel sheets to cutting-edge technology, saving businesses a whole lot of time, money, and work. But implementing this kind of change to your team’s everyday working life can be daunting.

So how can businesses get ahead? Well, according to Faith, it’s all about speaking to the right people and picking the easier battles first. 

“The reality is you just have to assess where you are right now. Speak to your accountant, speak to your people about the current pain points and understand where you want to be at, and talk to different people within the industry,” Faith said.

“Pick the easy things first, like paper invoices, these are really easy to manage with the right tools. I think it’s picking those easy battles first and already digitalising things that can be quickly done. Then, it’s about reassessing from there and questioning how we continue transformation and bring things onto one platform.”

The key areas to keep in mind when implementing a new process:

  • The preparation and readiness stage. Spend the time or bring an expert in to map out all your processes and identify where the pain points are and where there’s the most to gain from automation or new technology.
  • Define your roadmap. Whether you’re looking to IPO in the next few years or grow your teams, it’s crucial to put strategy and vision at the forefront to see where digital transformation could solve a problem. 
  • Prepare your team. Make sure people have the correct resources in place and have the capacity to focus on a large transformation project that may take up a certain amount of time. 
  • Ongoing support and future road mapping. Implementing digital transformation doesn’t stop at the beginning. It’s about continuous improvement and identifying other areas that could benefit from the help of technology. 

The future of finance is ever changing, and the new generation is going to have to focus on technology and finance operations to stay ahead. 

We think Ross Latta put it best: “The finance teams who are most successful are those who have an open mind when it comes to continually improving and adapting.”

The CFO's playbook for 2024

The CFO's playbook for 2024

Discover the state of spending in an increasingly automated and digitised financial world

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