Why There’s Never Been a Better Time to Embrace Digital Finance

COVID-19 has put us all under immense pressure, but it’s also made us more open to meaningful transformation.

As the old saying goes, “No crisis should go to waste”.

Back in December last year, Generation CFO team members were using Zoom as we are a remote team distributed over much of the UK. It is a good tool and it helps us be more engaged, therefore more productive, and as a dispersed team, which can be isolating, we all benefit from “seeing” each other to feel part of the team.

Four months on the world had started using video conferencing as we all adapted to lockdown. Between December 2019 to April 2020, Zoom’s daily meeting participants grew from around 10 million to 300 million. It was extraordinary growth for Zoom and its CEO Eric Yuan. It also inspired a change of behaviour by the entire working population. Remote work became the way of the present rather than potential for the future.

It might feel like we should put the COVID-19 crisis behind us as swiftly as possible, but it also presents an opportunity for you to enable your accounting and finance team like never before. We all know making a change can be hard. Some change can feel too hard. But some change is necessary.

We need to build a foundation for change.

When making change, the first thing we have to do is prepare ourselves and our teams to accept it. We need to make it necessary and unavoidable. A burning platform, so to speak. That’s what has made change so successful during the pandemic.

We need to smash the status quo to successfully make a change. This is the hardest part; people will argue against change, especially if the status quo supports their current ways of working.

In Zoom’s case, their marketing team had been challenging the status quo for nine years. It offered low cost, ubiquitous conversations whenever and wherever you want, but it was slow going. Then COVID-19 struck. In nine weeks, the world could not support the status quo. We thawed to the opportunity, and the rest is history.

In the digital finance space, we could argue that a combination of automation and business demand is driving the need for change. We need to make that feel as necessary as the shift to Zoom. The good news is that people are currently more accepting of new ideas and ways of working.

Enjoy more articles on digital transformation at Generation CFO and CFO.University

We need to shift mindsets.

One of the hardest things to do is to unfreeze mindsets, especially in busy, interdependent teams such as accounting and finance. CFO organisations are locked in an ecosystem that is built for control and order. We are reliant on the whole business to deliver outcomes for us, so changing minds can be tough.

But the hardest part of change, messaging a ‘managed crisis’ to challenge the status quo, has been done for us (thanks, coronavirus?).

Starting a digital finance function requires a compelling argument that traditional finance functions are not enough. Pre-COVID-19, this argument was usurped by a long list of calls for capital elsewhere in the business. Today, not only can we see the advantage of a data-enabled team, but it is also becoming part of our recovery plans.

Our managed crisis message is simple: digital transformation is happening, automation is happening, technology is available. Data-enabled finance teams are essential to meet the demands of our businesses and clients. If we want to keep a seat at the table, we must change to meet this demand.

This four part series For Chief Financial Officers: A Practical Approach to Using Artificial Intelligence can help you change your mindset and embark on your transformation journey.

So now is the perfect time to change.

The crisis has put us all off-site and off-balance. While this may be an uncomfortable place to be, this is exactly where we need to be to change. Unfrozen from the past, and ready to make a change.

Of course, there will be a need for a strategy and plan. There will be team anxieties about new skills and learning, which will lead to frustration and challenge. But managing team development and learning is easy compared to creating a compelling reason to change.

The hard bit is done, let’s not waste this crisis.

Chris Argent is the founder of Generation CFO, a boutique consultancy helping CFOs, accounting and finance teams discover and benefit from digital transformation.