In the wake of the pandemic and with many societies ageing rapidly, businesses must become more agile to remain competitive. CFOs and their finance teams – tasked with gathering valuable data insights for the company – often have valuable perspectives into their business’s potential, which can enable lasting financial viability even in a dramatically shifting business landscape.
Instead of getting buried with transactional paperwork on the backend, these teams should become more involved in strategy development and high-level decision-making. In many companies, this level of involvement is already becoming the norm – whether consciously or organically. Successfully maintaining this shift will require proper focus in three key areas: technology, people, and regulatory compliance.
The pandemic has already affected the finance sector in numerous ways – such as the increased use of cloud computing, video conferencing, customer data analytics, paperless documentation, automatic online processes, e-tax invoices, and a general transition towards a cashless society. Yet still more improvements in efficiency and service quality are waiting to be integrated into many businesses. It is worth considering the following points when incorporating technology into your future finance operations.
Automated transactions - Hyper-automation – which uses advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotic Process Automation – can automate many of the tasks ordinarily performed by humans. This allows for faster and more effective data handling than manual alternatives, and is significantly less prone to error than humans. Furthermore, blockchain technology’s sophisticated cryptography enhances transactional trust between parties. In combination, these advances can free up finance specialists from routine and repetitive spreadsheet tasks, while helping them obtain valuable data insights which can then be exploited through analytics.
The use of smart contracts also enhances efficiency and improves overall transparency, while relieving staff from having to perform manual tasks. The relatively low cost of implementing this technology levels the playing field for small and medium-sized companies, making them competitive with much larger banks and corporate entities.
Enhanced analytics - Advancements in enterprise resource planning and AI allow CFOs and their finance teams to gain grounded, real-time insights – rather than merely predicting and extrapolating from data periodically. The resulting analytics can benefit the management team, clients and/or investors by providing relevant, actionable insights.
As a result, KPIs can be more clearly assessed, implemented, and adjusted based on real-time data and more accurate predictions that reduce the likelihood of results being coloured by personal bias. These new capabilities let the finance team shift away from their traditional role as initial strategic decision-makers, and toward a broader commercial role, given their ability to respond quickly to emergent trends and challenges using precise data and enhanced analytics.
Increased self-service - The impact technology will have on end-users and their behaviour is often overlooked. In the near future, AI and self-service data analytics will be accessible to individuals and no longer limited to large companies with dedicated finance departments. Better integration of data collection and interpretation means that menial and time-consuming tasks can be streamlined, reducing bottlenecks across the financial chain and lowering the barrier to entry for smaller companies.
Consequent shifts in consumer behaviour must also be factored into the decision-making process. Finance experts must therefore learn to strategically review their own analytics, adapting to the changes they observe in real time.
Seamless flow of data and security - CFOs and upper management must ensure the smooth flow of accurate data as well as the sufficient protection of that data, to improve the long-term performance of their own organisation as well as their business partners such as vendors, customers and banks.
As more tasks become automated, finance staff will be able to put greater effort toward performance management. They will also be able to offer higher quality predictive analytics, as data collection and reconciliation become more robust and easier to achieve. Even today, many finance-related tasks rely on outdated spreadsheets and manually inputted data, which can be highly prone to user error or manipulation. Implementation of emergent technologies can streamline the data flow, while also enhancing security and transparency for all stakeholders, increasing institutional trust.
Integrated operating models - Enhanced access to new finance technologies means that operations will frequently need to adapt, both internally and externally. The necessary changes include which work can be automated, where work must be done, the time required to perform strategic analysis, and how the company can gain a competitive edge within this context of generational change.
CFOs in particular should be at the forefront of these operational transitions toward better-integrated operating models. Given that 51% of CFOs are concerned about the increased risk of liability or exposure as a result of new modes of working (e.g. work-from-home arrangements, or hybrid office models), it is clear that despite the advantages introduced by emergent digital technologies, it is also critical that their associated operational transformations are carefully considered prior to implementation.
Finance and accounting technology applications – Data analytics and AI have multiple applications across various functions, including but not limited to:
- Accounting management becoming more advanced, as companies can compare the profitability levels for each customer, business unit, and region. This information can greatly assist with policy-making/planning, calculating benchmark levels based on data from other businesses in the industry, and performing other business analyses as needed.
- Auditing becoming streamlined as technology offers the ability for anomaly detection through machine learning, identification of high-risk transactions, and shifting from sampling to auditing 100% of documents.
- Revenue departments gaining the ability to analyse feedback from the public more efficiently, in order to create more specific tax policies and better calculate taxes.
Technology on its own will not work or effect change without the right people harnessing its latent power. Not only must the employees of tomorrow be tech-savvy and data literate, but they must also be analytical, employ critical thinking, maintain flexibility when problem-solving, approach their work with a strong customer service orientation, and develop solid collaboration skills to function effectively within teams.
Furthermore, comprehensive on-boarding and ongoing training will be necessary for employees to understand how technology can be used creatively to propel the business forward. In this way, technology can be seen as a force multiplier that helps team members maximise their existing skills, rather than something distinct from the talent pool which puts it to use.
Indeed, implementing new technologies is often easier than training or replacing your talent. Many companies nevertheless make the mistake of thinking that mere system upgrades represent comprehensive solutions, forgetting to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the people who actually use it. The domains of technology and people are obviously connected, but cultural and organisational shifts related to your workforce may take much more time and care to get right.
It is therefore crucial to embrace a forward-looking approach toward HR issues, with the goal of ensuring that every employee is proficient with the new technologies integrated into the organisation, and how to get the greatest value from their use.
In addition to both technology and people, the finance team must also ensure that various local and international regulations are complied with. As countries frequently update their regulations, companies need to actively ensure that their tax and audit filings comply with the standards of their designated jurisdictions. For instance, although most countries follow the International Financial Reporting Standards, others such as the United States follow the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
Companies with subsidiaries in Thailand also need to comply with the Thai Financial Reporting Standards, which substantially overlap with International Financial Reporting Standards. Other local regulations to look out for include the Thai Revenue Code and the recent Personal Data Protection Act of Thailand.
Leading the way through change
Organisations that place their focus on technology, people, and regulatory compliance as elaborated above will gain an advantage over their competitors in their respective industries. However, successfully completing this set of coordinated shifts will require real changes within the company.
The team at Grant Thornton in Thailand can provide world-class consultation and guidance to help your business adopt the right technology, get your people on board, and comply with all relevant regulations.
These improvements can empower your finance department to spend more of its time contributing valuable insights and developing effective strategies that improve the business. Contact us today, and let our business consulting services experts help your organisation navigate this period of change – and deliver real growth moving forward.