Finance Agility in Uncertain Times
A Recap of FSN’s Panel on “How Can the Finance Function Stay Agile with Less People, in a Challenging Economy?” with Gary Simon, Alok Ajmera, and Vineta Bajaj
It’s an understatement to say that we continue to be challenged by a world of uncertainty. Nowhere is this volatility more apparent in the corporate world than on Finance teams.
Before the pandemic, Finance had to “do more with fewer people.” But the situation has changed, and those same teams must respond even more quickly to a broader set of unknowns. To add to the complexity, the “Great Resignation,” the pandemic, and market turmoil have depleted the workforce.
So, how does the Finance function become more agile? What is required?
These questions were the basis of a panel held by Gary Simon, CEO of FSN (FSN – The Modern Finance Forum), with input from Alok Ajmera, President & Chief Executive Officer at Prophix, and Vineta Bajaj, Group Finance Director, Ocado Group. The panel shared their thoughts on how the Finance function can stay agile with fewer people in a challenging economy.
Let’s dive in!
What is Agility?
First, the panel discussed expectations for an agile Finance team. Alok pointed out that agility is “about building an organisation that is ‘flexible’ – one that can adapt quickly to changes.” It’s also about “being ‘proactive’ by not just responding to changes but working to anticipate what could happen.”
Having defined what it means to be an agile Finance team, the conversation turned to what agility requires. The group identified several key points, including culture, resourcing, and technology.
The Role of Culture in Agility
When speaking to the importance of culture, Vineta highlighted that “an organisation [needs] to have a culture predicated on collaboration and sharing to be able to react.” Alok added that the “other piece of cultural strength is alignment within the organisation on goals and objectives…reinforcing agility within an organisation, so everyone agrees to a common set of objectives”.
Similarly, there was an acknowledgment that culture starts at the top, including Finance leaders and CFOs, who play a role in creating culture. Alok continued, “the way we as leaders operate must reflect the culture we want to have. Specific to agility, if the tone and the culture we’re looking for is flexible, proactive, and agile, then we as leaders must embody those principles.”
Why Resourcing is Key to Agility
This discussion led to a more in-depth look at resourcing for agility and workforce constraints. Vineta underscored her multi-generational approach and the need for “alignment of the varied generations within the workforce.”
Specifically, the group recognized that organisations – and resources within Finance – need to be “data-driven” to be proactive and agile. To support an agile approach, leaders should hire and train staff accordingly. The desire for agility, as Vineta points out, highlights the “need for and ways to bring your staff along with you on the digital transformation journey. We’re in an exciting time, on the cusp of generational changes, a new generation of workers coming on board, and this emerging workforce has different expectations for cutting-edge technologies.”
Alok acknowledged that as much as Finance leaders talk about being agile and flexible, there is still an underlying disconnect in that “our teams are given incredibly repetitive and manual tasks that are not data-driven.”
The Impact of Technology on Agility
Finally, the group discussed the impact of technology on achieving agility within Finance. This approach involves “systemically going through the entire way in which we work – the processes – and modernising them.”
The panel discussed the benefits of cloud platforms, which can make technology more accessible without a significant investment in onboarding or consulting. Cloud-based tools help you quickly automate and streamline your manual Finance processes. Investments in training and technology can also enable organisations to redeploy resources to more value-added tasks.
With massive advancements in cloud computing in recent years, including artificial intelligence, the Finance function is overdue for a seismic change in how they work. Consequently, “innovation must be at the heart of how we think. That belief will solve a lot of our challenges, including resource constraints and retaining top talent. All of this is innovative, and it means rethinking how we do the things we do,” said Alok.
Why Agility is a Necessity for Finance
Ultimately, being agile is no longer a nice-to-have for the Finance but an urgent necessity given the recent dramatic increase in social, economic, and political uncertainty. To be agile (i.e., flexible, and proactive) there are aspects of culture, resourcing, and technology that need to be addressed. This was summed up well in a closing statement from Alok:
“We must realise that a lot of the things we are talking about, acquiring the resources to be agile, takes thoughtfulness. It requires executives to understand what is currently done by the Finance team, resource allocation, and how to redeploy resources to operate more efficiently. So, things that we can do as leaders to help support Finance transformation is to understand that it may require a substantial amount of investment, including training and upskilling your team. We need to dial in and think about whether we have the right people, do they have the right skills, or do we need to incrementally improve their skill sets so a leader can extract more value from existing resources and headcount.”