"As the conversation shifts to what the return to office looks like, it's going to be a great opportunity to see what the new normal looks like. But whatever you decide to do, these periods are a good time to reimagine the art of the possible for your finance teams."
How you can reinvent finance across people, process and performance
In our season finale of Finance in 15, Adam Boutros reviews highlights of our first episodes and revisits the key points our guests addressed throughout our first episodes. Tune in to listen to the key takeaways from each episode, including getting started on finance transformation, the 3 Ps and how PwC Canada embraced the art of the possible in transforming its own finance team.
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Adam: Hello and welcome to the final episode of Season one of the Finance in 15 podcast, a series that explores finance transformation and what it means for leaders in the finance function. My name is Adam Boutros and I'm your host. I've had a great time hosting our first season, and I hope you found it insightful. I've really enjoyed hearing from people like you about how you've been listening to the episodes. Some have added listening to episodes as part of their morning routines or on their way to work for others, it's been a great way to get CPD credits, and it was really nice to hear from a corporate team that's been listening to the episodes as a group as part of preparations for their own financial transformation. We've even heard how some listeners are using the podcast as a reference source as they bring on new team members. And now we're busy planning for season two. But in the meantime, we wanted to close off season one with some highlights of our first episodes. So we'll listen to snippets of some of the key points and takeaways from our guests. Let's get started with our first episode, which featured Samir Bishara as our guest. We talked about how to get started on finance transformation, which is often one of the hardest parts of the journey. I think Samir did a great job of outlining some of the ways to get started, but he also emphasized that it's not a linear journey. Let's listen to some of what he had to say.
Samir The journey is not linear or prescriptive, and the starting point is uniquely driven by the needs of the organization and where they are on the journey. We have four stops along the way of the journey. Number one is a clear vision, roadmap to get there and followed by the three P's. The key message is while this journey is going on, it does not preclude us from realizing benefits associated with capacity, process, simplification, standardization and a better and deeper insight of the data and information the business needs.
Adam: As we've said many times, there are three key elements that you need to think through to be successful on your transformation journey. At PwC Canada, we call them the three P's: people process and performance. While all three are important and part of an interconnected journey, I think it came through loudly in our episodes that the people aspect is foundational. I've certainly seen how the most successful transformations focus on this aspect. I think it was also clear that it's not just about upscaling. Finance transformation can mean significant change and getting people to buy into that by showing them what's in it for them is critical. You really want to bring them along with you on the Journey. Our episode three guest Lee-Anne Kovacs, put it very well. Here's what she had to say about the people aspect.
Lee-Anne: I'd say invest in your finance talent, some of it will be through Catalyst hires, but you can't solve your transformation through just hiring alone. Take them on that kind of upscaling journey. You need to kind of equip your people with the skills to evolve, kind of in their role, as your expectations of them evolve. And when you do this, you kind of instill this spirit of citizen led innovation by having people really question what they do not know and what doesn't work and what they can change to make their jobs better and more efficient. You need to find ways to encourage them to opt into transformation and you want to kind of reward that transformation. This has big benefits in terms of talent retention and developing the organization. People don't want to focus on mundane tasks and they're looking for more meaningful career paths. They want opportunities to automate. CFOs often forget what it's like to be that junior analyst that's crunching through 40 spreadsheets, kind of some of those soul crushing work that that often happens in the finance group. Creating that kind of spirit of bottom up innovation can free up that white space that we talked about to focus on more value add work.
Adam: In episode four, we covered the process pillar with Kevin Ng and Marino Fremis. Your processes are also a big part of your finance transformation. I think the episode really highlighted how the benefits of streamlining and blue sky thinking about processes can often be just as impactful as bringing in new technology. The great thing about revisiting your processes is sometimes it just takes a spark to start making changes that can then lead to broader transformation, kind of a snowball effect. And you can see great results and efficiencies from simple automations in areas you might not have thought of, for example. So let's listen to Kevin Ng, who talked about the savings and efficiencies from automating tax processes. I think it really shows what's possible.
Kevin: Within our asset management function, we actually went through a process analysis and a review of exactly how we do something, a particular deliverable that we present to our clients every year, and it's within the mutual fund industry. What we did there was that, as some of our audience may be aware, the mutual fund industry each and every year has to do a year end taxable income calculation. We knew that there was a massive ask of our of our human capital to stay primarily late at night, around Christmas time to get this stuff done so that it would be published in time. And so we knew that we had to do something different. How do we get the data? What format do we get the data from? How does it differ by client? How do we ingest that data into the PwC World? Standardize it, change it, push it through a calculator of sorts, an automated calculator of sorts, and then also create a communication platform with our client. By going through that full process, we were actually able to identify certain parts of the process, or steps within the process that were actually redundant. We didn't even realize this. Our staff were just doing it because that's how they were trained to do it. Rethinking that processing, leveraging the technology that we have, which was really a Microsoft based tool, and then also looking at the technology that provided for easier communication with our clients. Instead of emailing back and forth, we actually created a communication platform.
Adam: Our sixth episode talked about the ultimate goal of finance transformation, the ability for finance teams to be even better business partners through a more forward looking data analytics capability. This is what we mean when we talk about the performance pillar. I really enjoyed my conversation with Marilyn Wang and Sebastien Doyon about what this looks like. Marilyn made some great points about how to start improving your data capabilities and it was really nice to hear about how accessible many of the tools already are for finance teams. Here's some of what both Marilen and Sebastien had to say.
Marilyn: Making some investments in new tools is really important to enabling the teams, but I'd say that it's not just about the technology and that there is a need to ensure that the process and people impacts are also considered together with the tools decision. There needs to be a vision and a roadmap and making sure that this all connects and interplays well together. So having said that, there are many local tools that are user friendly for data preparation data visualizations like Power API and Tableau being the most popular these days. And for data modeling building out predictive models, you will need tools such as Python and R. And let's not forget about data itself. There needs to be an investment in data in order to make these predictive models that we're all talking about here. Third party data, external data to embed into your own internal data is really important to consider. So with the finance teams that I know of are typically really great at dealing with data using Excel like they are really great at Excel documents. But there are new tools like Sebastien kind of mentioned earlier on, and new tools really requires new capabilities. And if they embrace that, then really they can get into the more advanced, more impactful reporting and analysis. So finance teams may need to upscale on these new tools to really make the most of the data opportunity.
Adam: I think one of my favorite quotes was from our episode five guest, Michelle Bourgeois. She was talking about major digital transformation initiatives like moving to the cloud and made that point that really encapsulates the important role of the CFO when she said all roads lead to the CFO and we were fortunate to have a CFO, PwC Canada's Alaina Tennison speak about her experience with significant finance transformation at PwC Canada. Here's some of what she had to say.
Alaina: Anytime you're moving away from a business as usual process into trying something new, it creates anxiety within the system. So we were open and honest with our people and really looked at it as an opportunity for them. It was a bit rough off the start when some of our staff were like, does this mean I'm not going to have a job? You're looking at different automation tools. What I used to be doing is now being automated. But ultimately, when we said to them, like, what are the aspects of your job that you really don't like? Where do you think there's some opportunity to do something different and try new things and focus your time on the really higher value add activities? Then we got some real excitement from the group. Everybody's got things that they don't like, I couldn't promise to get rid of all of them, but once they saw some opportunities, we created some early automations, we created some early process changes. They saw the benefit. They saw how it freed them up to do more value add activities. Since then, there's been really, I'd say, an explosion of idea generation, positive change management where people are wanting to do something different because now they feel that they feel safe. And but it was having that open and honest conversation that helped them with feeling safe to make change.
Adam: I think our episode with Alaina really showed what's possible for finance teams, and I'm excited to build on the topics our guests covered and dive even further into finance transformation in season two. It's a very interesting time to be talking about this after all of the change and disruption businesses have been experiencing in the last year or so. And this definitely includes finance teams. As the conversation shifts to what the return to office looks like, it's going to be a great opportunity to reflect on what the new normal looks like. Some will stay virtual, others will go back to the office, and many will choose a hybrid mix. But whatever you decide to do, these periods are a good time to reimagine the art of the possible for your finance teams by building on what has worked well, rather than returning to your previous ways of working. So that officially ends season one of the Finance in 15 podcast. Thank you for joining us and stay tuned for season two. This fall, we look forward to sharing CFO insights on finance transformation and exploring emerging topics like ESG, developing the workforce, the future and cybersecurity and privacy matters. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts on this podcast series by leaving us a rating or review. I'm Adam Boutros and this is Finance in 15.
Adam Boutros is a Partner and National Assurance Markets Lead at PwC Canada. Building on his role of helping finance leaders and audit committees navigate the latest issues they’re facing, he became PwC’s Future of Finance Leader in 2020. He’s passionate about helping CFOs modernize their finance departments and played a key role in launching this podcast in 2021 as part of his work in helping them elevate their role in the organizations they serve.