What is Next For CFOs In The Post-Pandemic World?

Fatihah Ramzi, DigitalCFO Asia | 2 August 2022

CFO leaders from key industries shared on how they are rising to the challenges of a changing world especially as they shift to a post-pandemic landscape.

Organizations are refocusing their attention on digital transformation (DX) to be more robust against potential disruptions and seize the next stage of growth as uncertainty becomes the new normal. Businesses need to be highly adaptive in their planning and operations if they want to succeed, whether it is exercising an existing muscle or picking up new behaviors.

During the Workday Illuminate CFO Roundtable, CFO leaders from key industries shared on how they are rising to the challenges of a changing world especially as they shift to a post-pandemic landscape. The CFOs exchanged ideas along with insights throughout the moderated executive roundtable sessions and networked with fellow peers as they rethink, reset and move beyond with optimism into the future.

CFO – A New Narrative to Drive Finance Function — The Next Evolution of Finance as a Value Creator was moderated by Kon Yin Tong, former President of ISCA, and Managing Partner, Foo Kon Tan LLP and Tan Lee Thong, CFO Practice Lead, Asia, Workday. The attendees are to remain anonymous however, the discussion will assist other CFOs in focusing on trends and key areas that will help businesses to remain leading in the future. 

Changes Sparked By The Pandemic In The CFO Role And Expectations Of The Team

A CFO from the tourism industry shed light on their business’ struggles and highlighted that the company had to outsource services to save cost on processes. Other CFOs agreed and stated that they had to continue creating efficiency throughout the pandemic and they did so by reorganising their organisation with the help of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). 

Apart from continuing the creation of efficiency, many companies had to improve efficiency within the company as many were forced to centralise in Singapore therefore, they had to maintain their workforce with the use of automation. Regardless of the industry, almost all businesses noticed a great impact to their productivity.

Before the pandemic, there were still multinational companies who were paper heavy and extremely reliant on hard copies to pass around information. The pandemic brought to light a dire need for an online database that people could access seamlessly with the information they need already available. Such companies definitely faced a struggle in digitalising their company from being paper-heavy to being completely online but it had to be made if they wanted to continue their operations throughout the pandemic. 

It was also noted that regulated businesses had very strict regulations to comply with and that they had to work closely with authorities in adopting digital solutions for consumers due to the rise in cyber crimes. With the market being highly volatile during the pandemic and even now, CFOs observed a very competitive market for resources and that businesses had to re-identify their services. 

The Race To Sustainability And Their Role Towards The ESG Agenda

In the post-pandemic world, CFOs have realised that digitalisation has been done by companies and that the race is slowly coming to an end. They have noticed another rising trend and that is in achieving net-zero and becoming a more sustainable business. Soon, there will be a race towards sustainability but the issue about going that direction is that there is a lack of guidelines and standards put in place for businesses to successfully make their businesses sustainable. 

Many organizations find themselves at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to vying for the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) certification. One CFO denoted that governance is an extremely important part for regulated businesses but when it came to environmental and social, they had a tough time trying to keep track of their footprint which is an extremely important part of the ESG certification. Due to the lack of knowledge circulating ESG, there is a lot of confusion on how to go about achieving it. In future, they hope that there are guidelines and standards in place which could help them achieve this. 

Challenges In Attracting And Retaining Talents

Aside from the race to sustainability, CFOs indicated another great current challenge that has future repercussions which is “The Great Resignation”. They see a higher-than-usual number of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs in the post-pandemic world. This is due to job dissatisfaction and there are a multitude of reasons why employees feel this way. It might be due to employment insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term job unhappiness, income stagnation amid rising living expenses, or a desire to work for organizations that have superior remote-working policies.

To target this workforce challenge, CFOs spoke about strategies which they have implemented to prevent this and they are, “Job Redesign” and “Job Repurposing”. Job Redesign is the approach to revisiting and restructuring jobs to meet the specific needs of a particular segment of the workforce. Job repurposing refers to redeploying staff into new areas to meet the critical business priorities. With these two strategies, they noticed higher job satisfaction among employees and could reduce hiring of new employees to fill roles in the company. 

Final thoughts On Finance Shifting From Being A “Bean-Counter” To Become A “Value Creator”

No matter how big or small, employee engagement and experience are at the heart of any organizational change. Empowering employees as they navigate change depends heavily on having access to the appropriate information at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. With that said, the CFO roundtable ended with the values they believe is key in a CFO role. Simply put, CFOs need to relate to business through numbers and must relay that with the art of storytelling. The CFO roundtable was definitely a very meaningful and insightful discussion for all industries and hopefully, these takeaways will help other businesses to align their areas of priority.