The Ever-Evolving Role of Finance and Accounting Executives in the face of digital change

COVID-19 had threatened a years-long clean-up of India’s financial systems, quickly exposing communication gaps and those firms burdened with inadequate digital maturity.But, the resulting digital shift has, in actuality, been a boon for the Indian Finance and Accounting (F&A) sector,with the country adopting Fintech at the highest rate (87 percent) out of all emerging markets.

For over a decade, the sector has heavily invested in outdated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, leaving clients unarmed to make decisions due to a lack of insight into performance. Every finance function has had to pivot to meet growing expectations of becoming agile, resilient, and data-driven – focusing on iterations of ERP systems. In 2021,F&A will heavily invest in technologies to champion digital transformation, and move to a model that optimises processes in a way that unlocks previously untapped levels of speed and accuracy. These vast changes, coupled with remote working becoming the norm for finance teams, mean the role of executives will effectively be redefined.

Automation will no longer remain an option
The urgency to reach remote customers, and ensure seamless access to financial services, has underlined the essential role that automation plays in the sector. Compared to organisations that had not invested before the pandemic, automation leaders could collaborate more easily across finance processes and scale models up or down when necessary. In the face of pressure to adapt, India is gearing up to create a new Finance service model with integrated digitalization and data security,making increased investments in cloud and automation to better leverage resources and make remote finance more agile.From customer service to fraud detection, developments in automation are creating new business routes that gift financial decision-makers with strategic insights and better predictability. Coupled with predictive algorithms, finance automation is guaranteeing profitable resource utilisation as well as reducing inevitable human error - creating make-or-break cost savings of up to 70 percent.

As a more seamless man and machine workforce is orchestrated, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Advanced Data Analytics are steering finance executives to return their focus to relationship banking. In the absence of physical interactions, organisations are re-evaluating how best they can keep connected with customers and meet a growing appetite for best-in-class service, as opposed to concentrating on high-volume data inputting.AI, or digital E-workers, interact with structured and unstructured data – usually dealt with by financial executives – to carry out lower value activities such as payroll administration, billing management,and reporting. With less time being spent on building reports, and more time dedicated to troubleshooting and improving the customer experience, professionals can take a more holistic view of performance, opportunities, and risk to generate better outcomes for users. Executives regain the space to address critical strategic business questions by allowing AI-powered engines to identify patterns,rebuilding financial visibility as a result.

Overcoming implementation challenges
Enterprises, either planning or in the midst of digital transformation, were plunged into an overnight shift to remote working – which may have delayed or cancelled projects for finance firms. As of December 2020, over half (63 per cent) of Indian firms had ramped up their investment in hybrid cloud, as they sought alternative platforms for managing dispersed workflows . To accelerate the shift to the cloud, and help teams cope with demand spikes, Finance as a Service (FaaS) has performed as a cost-effective solution. Posing minimal risk and implementation costs, FaaS offerings have gifted finance firms the smooth integration of data and business processes, necessary for remote executives to do their job effectively in the face of unpredictable labour dynamics.

As financial institutions race to digitalise their customers, and the wider business, many may forget about the importance of employees at the centre of change. Some executives may struggle to embrace change more so than others – a challenge made increasingly difficult in the remote working environment. With the employee experience central to a digital finance strategy, firms should invest in their people and roll out the right training and self-learning modules on new digital products. Allowing executives to understand the power of reskilling will accelerate digital transformation, motivate them to adapt, and improve the overall experience for both executive and customer.

The advanced digital ecosystem of tomorrow
In 2021 and beyond, radically transformed finance models will emerge. With disruptive technologies and data analytics at the core of the seismic shift occurring in the finance function, the bar for streamlined customer expectations is rising and presenting upending opportunities for innovation. Automation and cloud-based operating models are providing finance firms with a springboard to launch exceptional productivity, cost efficiencies, and a more resourceful way of working for executives. Connecting the business across the back, middle, and front office will ensure seamless experiences – immune from future disruption - for both end customers and internal users.