South African financial leaders report that their roles have evolved dramatically due to the permanent ways in which the pandemic has changed their operations and the business landscape.

New research from Sage finds that 63% of finance leaders agreed they need expertise in digital transformation, and 33% said they need the ability to turn data into stories to be good at their jobs after COVID-19.

The research surveyed 313 leaders and financial professionals from 170 businesses with revenues of at least R14 million and 50 to 5,000 employees.

Only 16% said data storytelling was an essential skill before the pandemic. Conversely, the respondents ranked digitalisation/digital transformation as the sixth most important skill pre-pandemic; they rated it as the second most important skill post-pandemic, behind only accounting and financial reporting.

Articulating business futures with data narratives

Says Jordaan Burger, Vice President Finance, Sage Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific: “Over the past 18 months, South African CFOs have faced a challenging landscape of disrupted customer behaviours, hybrid work and revenue uncertainty. As the dust settles after the third wave of COVID-19 infections, they embrace new business roles.

“Their job is no longer simply about reporting the numbers, but articulating and driving the future of the business. Financial leaders are embracing new responsibilities in championing digital transformation and using data to create compelling narratives about how the business can seize opportunities to grow revenues and profitability.”

CFOs get more involved in strategy

Businesses appear to be emerging from the health and economic crisis of the pandemic with a renewed appreciation of their finance professionals. Nine in ten respondents reported that their value as a finance professional has become more apparent to others across the organisation. At the same time, many agreed that the importance of the finance professional has grown in the eyes of the board and C-suite.

Nearly all (95%) said they had become more directly involved in determining the business strategy. This is understandable, given the multiple financial challenges businesses have faced over the past 18 months.

Barriers to embracing data storytelling

As CFOs seek to use data to guide their businesses through this landscape, they encounter significant barriers. More than nine in ten said they are spending too much time collecting and manually inputting data; there is not enough granularity in their data to understand why problems are occurring; they have insufficient information to make good decisions, and they don’t know what data to trust.

On this journey, having access to real-time data is critical, while adopting cloud-based systems is seen as key in democratising financial data and increasing accountability. 95% of respondents say COVID-19 has highlighted the need for better financial technology in their organisation, while 85% of finance teams plan to improve the software they use to thrive in this new world.

Burger says: “Finance teams are overwhelmed by data overload, manually executing tasks and the challenge of accessing systems remotely with no compromise to security. The majority that haven’t already done so will be moving to the cloud over the next year to drive productivity, shift to real-time reporting and support hybrid working models.”

Share This