COVID-19 won’t last forever but its impact on the way businesses operate in a post-pandemic world will. Most companies will operate remotely to some degree, and some will even close their office’s doors and operate completely digitally.
It’s become clear that businesses’ ability to operate digitally—and embrace digital transformation—will be a determining factor in their success, long after COVID-19 has left our rear-view mirrors.
Finance and accounting professionals are at the forefront of this digital shift, as they’ve had to adapt processes that once depended on teams being in-office to keep money coming in the door. The actions they take towards digital transformation now will play a defining role in how businesses navigate the new normal.
In the first instalment of our Finance and Accounting Masterclass webinar series, The Digital Shift, we got an inside look at what four experts in accounting, finance, and digital transformation believe is the best way to prepare for a post-pandemic world.
On a Q&A panel moderated by Versapay CMO Bob Stark, we had a chance to speak to Jennifer Elder, Chief Solutions Officer, The Sustainable CFO, Dipesh Shah, Principal, New Roads Consulting, and Jeff Phaneuf, VP, Finance & Planning, Boston Properties Inc.
They shared their predictions for which aspects of pandemic life will continue to impact the ways buyers and sellers do business with each other post-pandemic and why embracing digitization has never been so important to businesses’ survival.
Read more to discover these finance and accounting experts’ top advice.
Q: How are you structuring your finance team now and what do you think the finance team of the future will look like?
Jeff: I’ll narrow in on the accounts receivable team since that’s my main area of focus. Looking back, we’ve always had the number crunchers, people looking after Accounting 101 essentially. In the past, these kinds of roles haven’t been the most technology-oriented, but now we want them to evolve and become more outward-facing, more customer-service-oriented, and more tech-oriented.
As we’re applying technology to what we do day-to-day, instead of just looking at an aging report and calling to collect from a tenant, we want our folks to be able to go online, onboard new tenants to our payment platform, and support the systems and technology enabling us to apply payments automatically.
With more accounts receivable automation, I think our future finance teams will be smaller. Our accounts receivable teams won’t need as many people opening up the mail, collecting checks, running to the bank, and going through spreadsheets. We’re hoping the nature of a role in accounts receivable becomes more sustainable and enjoyable as opposed to grinding through numbers with your nose down every day.
Q: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the relationship between buyers and sellers?
Jennifer: Everyone has become a little bit less patient and a lot more stressed, for a number of reasons. There are so many things in our world today that we might have been more willing to put up with before COVID. The way this translates to the relationship between buyers and sellers is no different—you have buyers looking for the easiest way to do business with you and they will choose whoever can give them the best and most convenient experience.
This is largely applicable to buyers and sellers in every aspect of B2B, because buyers now expect their sellers to think more about them, their experiences, and how they can bring value to their everyday lives.
Bob: Historically in B2B there hasn’t really been a mindset of focusing on the buyer and their experience. I don’t know if that’s a generational thing or a reflection of how much technology has improved our personal lives, making us now expect the same level of technology to be provided in the B2B world.
Now, if a seller doesn’t meet a B2B buyer’s expectations, that buyer is more likely to take their business to someone who will provide what they’re looking for.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected the processes and technology supporting finance and accounting teams?
Dipesh: One of the things I’ve seen become very valuable—not just in light of COVID but pre-COVID as well—is creating data governance and a data-governed organization. Often those within the finance and accounting organization struggle when talking to the business organization because each have different definitions for the same thing. You could have two department heads produce the same report but with different numbers because they’re looking at it through two different lenses.
Having data is great, but an initial step would be for the finance side and the business side to align on standard metrics and KPIs and establish the organization’s dictionary or source of truth. When you do put your various systems in place, you’ll be looking at information in the same way.
Q: What are CFOs currently doing to prepare for further digitization of finance departments?
Jeff: From my perspective, as someone who reports to the CFO, the biggest thing CFOs can do today to prepare their finance departments for further digitization is to support and encourage their team in familiarizing themselves with emerging technologies, often in collaboration with IT.
We all have a tendency to get too busy and not allow ourselves the chance to learn from our peers and their expertise. The biggest thing any CFO can do is foster a learning environment. Instead of saying, “things are moving along, we have great stuff, and we’re going to keep going as we always have,” the CFO should encourage their finance teams to discover better ways of doing business—with both their customers and their own suppliers—and provide investments that support that.
Q: What toolsets do you see as the most impactful to finance and accounting in a post-pandemic world? Which should CFOs consider?
Dipesh: There’s technology that looks after the basic functions of accounts payable and accounts receivable, but it can go way beyond this. Analytics tracking plays a big part in my role as an IT professional and I’m always looking to answer the question, “how can I get more data and information in the hands of our finance leaders and the teams they interact with daily?”
If I can do this, then their teams can provide even greater business intelligence with these data sets to the rest of their respective organizations. It’s critical for there to be toolsets in place that empower partnerships between IT, finance, and accounting teams. Bolstering that partnership with data helps make sure IT leaders have a seat at the table and elevates the CFO’s organization as the data they provide on key finance metrics can play an important role in strategic decisions.
Bob: Dipesh makes a great point, and it’s a great example. It’s not just reacting in the moment but finding if there are better ways that we can do things, which helps the larger collective of the organization.
Q: What advice do you have for companies looking at further automation and transformation in a post-pandemic world?
Jennifer: Look outside yourself and outside your industry. Ask yourself “what are other people doing?” Brands like Disney don’t look to anyone else within their industry for benchmarks because they know they’re the best at what they do. Instead, Disney looks outside of their organization for those best-in-class organizations who have expertise in areas like customer experience, like the Ritz Carltons and Nordstroms of the world.
They’re looking outside to see what others are doing differently and what they might be able to adopt. Connect with your networking group and ask, “what have you automated?”, “what’s worked for you?”, and “what would you say still needs work?” Putting yourself outside the organization and the industry you’re part of will be especially useful when looking to further automate and transform your business after the pandemic ends.
Watch this session on-demand here to get even more insights from our panel of experts on how you can best position yourself for success in a post-pandemic world and stay tuned for more details on upcoming webinars in The Digital Shift series.