As uncertainty becomes the new norm, increasing agility in the finance function and investing in its transformation remain key priorities for the year ahead while finance leaders begin tackling the rising risk of burnout
Attributed to Aoife Morgan from FinancialDirector | 4 February 2022
Increasing agility in finance function
The ongoing uncertainty driven by the pandemic means moving towards long term flexibility in the new year is more important than ever, according to Jill Klindt, CFO at Workiva.
“I was a little naive going into 2021 [thinking] maybe we’ll get back to a normal, and I’ve gotten rid of that notion,” she said. “Normal is going to be whatever comes and we just need to be able to be more flexible to fit the current needs.”
Shirine Khoury-Haq, CFO and CEO Life Services at Co-op, said that continually changing external factors requires finance teams to ensure financial and operational flexibility within the business.
“To anticipate what is coming up and therefore plan and action appropriately. There is a careful balance of investment and prudence, which is more important than ever.”
“There are economic challenges, both national and global, that should be front of mind for all business leaders at the moment; including supply chain challenges, inflation, stock market and exchange rate fluctuations, interest rate increases and others,” she added.
The events of the past 18 months have underlined the importance of modelling various risk scenarios and understanding the potential impacts on the business, according to David Carrick, CFO at Apex Group.
“A CFO must play an active role, as part of the wider management team, in evaluating and measuring the levels of external and macro-economic risks facing their organisation,” he said.
“CFOs should not only constantly forward forecast the finances of the business, but also the financial risks facing the organisation,” he added. “By preparing for potential risk scenarios, as well as understanding the industry and macroeconomic trends and drivers, CFOs can help their organisation to be more robust and to adapt and manage these risks most effectively.”
Managing the risk of burnout
With the talent shortages still looming large, employee retention and burnout remains at the top of the agenda for many finance leaders.
Burnout is at an all-time high across professions, according to recent American Psychological Association report. In fact, 79 percent of employees surveyed had experienced work-related stress alongside other issues, including cognitive wariness (36 percent), emotional exhaustion (32 percent) and physical fatigue (44 percent).
Graeme Gibson, financial director at Edinburgh Airport, highlighted there is a limit to people’s resilience and a year of drawing down on people’s reserves and goodwill means businesses will need to focus on managing the risk of burnout.
Khoury-Haq said the wellbeing of colleagues will be a continued focus in an era of remote working.
“The wellbeing of my colleagues is just as important to me as it has ever been, as we head into the new year. One priority for 2022 is the continued support of those working from home, to help keep work life balance stable and ensure we can flex around the needs of our colleagues and their families.
“I don’t want anyone in my team to feel subject to unrealistic expectations or benchmarks that would compromise their quality of life as they work remotely and deal with the personal challenges that these times are presenting,” she added.
An empathetic approach to leadership may well be essential to employee retention. In fact, 90 percent of workers believe the leadership style leads to higher job satisfaction and 79 percent agree it decreases employee turnover, according to a survey by EY.
Klindt said the Great Resignation reached new heights in 2021 but it’s not over yet as the pandemic has altered how people look at work.
It’s a different era, she said. People have different thought processes around their job and what makes them happy and fulfilled.
Increasing investment to transform the finance function
Organisations continue to invest in the digital transformation of their finance function. However, some businesses have a little catching up to do after the past year was spent managing the impacts of the pandemic.
Gibson said the heavily impacted aviation industry meant there was less capacity to focus on developing the finance function in 2021, but there is renewed focus in 2022.
“The last two years have really been about firefighting and managing the fallout from Covid-19,” he said. “We need to start investing in systems technologies, productivity initiatives, and improvements and just lifting our head up from the day job and thinking about what does finance look like five years from now.”
Apex Group’s Carrick said investment in the finance function will be crucial this year to ensure the Group’s finance teams are well-equipped to support the organisation’s growth.
“The smooth integration of acquisitions is paramount to the retention of clients and staff – something we have successfully achieved in previous years,” Carrick said. “The finance function will support synergy realization of these integrations and any required restructuring of entities in order to maximise the value proposition of the Apex single-source business model.
“We will continue to expand on our existing data reporting and analytics capabilities which we see as fundamental to supporting the company’s continued rapid growth.”
However, investment in processes should also be paired with investment in people to support the further growth and to guarantee client service excellence, he added.