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F&A in a new era of work: 5 trends and takeaways for the C-suite

We discuss some of the top trends, challenges, opportunities, and important shifts in F&A, as well as key takeaways for CFOs and CPA firms in the new normal.

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For businesses across industry segments, CFOs and finance and accounting (F&A) teams are under immense pressure to reduce costs, optimize processes, and enhance revenue. As we near the end of the first quarter of 2021, we analyze the rollercoaster ride that was 2020 and how it reshaped the F&A space during an unprecedented financial year.

The F&A function was lagging behind in terms of timely adoption of new technologies due to large-scale reliance on legacy systems and practices.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and all the uncertainties resulting from it, we witnessed the F&A function taking a giant leap towards discarding old-school processes to embracing everything new. To drive this point further, a survey reported that 67% of accountants preferred cloud accounting over regular, on-premise solutions. Such trends mark a new and welcome chapter in the history of F&A.

While CFOs and F&A decision-makers have spent most of the past 14 months trying to brainstorm, firefight, and solve novel challenges, 2021 will undoubtedly throw unexpected questions their way, especially from a long-term strategic perspective.

We discuss some of the top trends, challenges, opportunities, and important shifts in F&A, as well as key takeaways for CFOs and CPA firms in the new normal.

  • To automate or not to automate?

Industry experts and tech solution providers have been harping on the fact that automation is indispensable for organizations that want to be future-ready. That era of automation adoption is finally here.

A vast majority of repetitive tasks and rules-based transactions, which consume numerous man-hours, will now be automated. This includes tasks like invoice processing, vendor inquiries, payments execution, supplier registration, payments reconciliation, and so on.

Finance functions that have already implemented automated processes in place before the pandemic managed the phase better than those saddled with legacy processes. Today’s finance leaders are evaluating and applying technologies such as intelligent automation, robotic process automation, and cloud computing for better productivity and to improve their bottom line.

  • The sun is shining on the ‘cloud’

Cloud computing in the finance and accounting sector delivers faster access to data, promotes transparency, and prevents data silos. The cloud accounting software market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.5% until 2025. It is not surprising that cloud adoption has become a priority for the accounts function.

Secure document storage, seamless access to files from anywhere in the world, and a hybrid, collaborative approach are cloud-enabled capabilities that organisations strive to achieve.

  • Learn, upskill, collaborate

The F&A specialist is expected to go beyond traditional accounting. CFOs and finance leaders should ensure that select new hires and existing team members are well-versed in strategic technologies such as data science, cloud computing, and blockchain, along with better communication and decision-making skills. Resources like Gartner’s skill gap assessment map out must-have digital finance competencies.

To amplify productivity and cut costs, the accountant of tomorrow must embrace flexible roles and develop a holistic focus for the organisation. The C-suite can encourage and lead by example in this digital upskilling.

On the other hand, CFOs can benefit from collaborations with seasoned outsourcing consultants. For instance, F&A outsourcing from Infosys BPM could go a long way in standardising and automating processes without having to expend time and effort in extensive training.

  • Work from home is here to stay

Remote work became the norm during the pandemic because of worldwide lockdowns and restrictions. For F&A professionals, this meant taking all their daily work home and ensuring there are no snags in the process. Of course, the transition came with challenges in employee engagement and productivity, but leaders soon realised that this is a highly effective working arrangement, with a potential to extend it for a longer term.

To enable effective remote working, F&A leaders must stay committed to providing the best technology tools and support, keeping individuals engaged and motivated, and empowering people to make decisions at their levels. The hybrid model (working from home and occasionally working from the office) has seen many takers and will continue to be an efficient system in the near future.

  • Help, my laptop is under attack!

From leaking customers’ personal information to compromising highly-sensitive financial data, cyberattacks are a high-stakes concern for every F&A leader.

The FBI reported a 300% hike in cyberattacks from the beginning of the pandemic. With organisations determined to ensure their virtual presence, unscrupulous hackers have found more room to exploit existing loopholes. It is critical that CFOs and CPA heads ensure multi-faceted protection of F&A data in the age of remote work.

While the hybrid model of work is the way forward in many ways, F&A functions must increase the focus on data privacy and protection. Apart from ensuring two-factor authentication and VPN policies, organisations must invest in relevant staff training, real-time risk management, and regular security audits (third party) to quash potential threats.

Moving forward, an agile, adaptive, and resilient F&A function is what business leaders must help create.

With digital disruption arriving at the core of accounting processes, CFOs must consider strategies that include the right mix of tech adoption, re-skilling and upskilling, and partnerships in F&A outsourcing to streamline and synergise finance processes and enable F&A teams to create a positive and ever-lasting transformation.

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