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Taking the CFO pulse: New opportunities to drive change and innovation in uncertain times

Adam Boutros, National Assurance Markets Leader, PwC Canada

We know the business environment continues to be challenging. The Canadian economy has recovered somewhat from the rapid decline in the spring, but with a second wave of COVID-19 underway, the business environment remains uncertain. Even as they keep a close eye on what the latest developments could mean for their business prospects in the near term, Canada’s chief financial officers are thinking hard about how they can help their organizations strategize for the future.

Since all of this began, we’ve kept in touch with CFOs to understand how they’ve been managing. Most recently, our colleagues in the United States sought the views of business leaders through PwC’s executive pulse survey. In narrowing the findings down to CFOs, the survey found finance functions have been playing a broad and strategic role in steering their businesses over these past few months. They’ve done this by providing the insights required to revamp business models and identify opportunities ripe for innovation during this downturn.

In our own conversations with Canadian CFOs, we’ve found a similar desire to uncover the insights that will drive growth and transformation after emerging from the liquidity worries at the start of the pandemic. But it’s not easy. Many CFOs are feeling the impact of job losses in their finance functions, making it more difficult to carve out time for the strategic focus they know is so critical.

Freeing up capacity to strategize for the future

One answer to this challenge is to look inward. CFOs need to free up capacity to help their organizations strategize for the future, especially since inconsistent and manual processes can hold your finance teams back from delivering the insights the business is looking for. It’s a challenging time, but finance leaders also have an opportunity to embrace changes that will let them do more with less. This makes it more important than ever to reinvent the finance function.

One immediate opportunity is to lead the business in transforming the workforce. Finance functions are perhaps better positioned to work remotely than many other areas of the organization, and now is a good time for CFOs to look at how they can make some of those changes permanent. As our recent Canadian workforce of the future study found, many Canadian employees want to continue working remotely, and the vast majority feel their productivity has either remained the same or improved during this period.

We know that successfully transforming the finance function requires digitally savvy teams with the skills to bring about the CFO’s vision, and one way to spark an environment of change and innovation is to embrace the opportunity to deliver differently in this new world of work. CFOs can lead their organizations on this aspect of transformation by ensuring they have the tools, workforce structure and skills in place to succeed in our increasingly digital future.

Making progress in quick sprints

All of this is challenging when CFOs are facing so much pressure and uncertainty, especially when executives want to see quick payback from transformation investments. The good news is there are many paths to transforming the finance function. For some organizations, the time is right for a large-scale technology change; for others, it could be a complete redesign of the finance organization’s processes around existing finance technology.

We’ve also seen some organizations make significant progress in quick sprints, whether their priority is to simplify processes to get the most out of automation, invest in their people or generate the data and insights they need to drive performance and decision making. We find these sprints most effective when starting with a targeted area, such as tax compliance or internal controls optimization.

How are you strategizing during this period of uncertainty? For guidance and perspectives, check out some of our resources on how the finance operating model is changing and read about what some other organizations have done to transform their tax functions. As always, please reach out to me any time to discuss the questions and challenges you’re facing in these extraordinary times.

Contact us

Adam Boutros

Adam Boutros

National Assurance Markets Lead, Future of Finance Leader, Partner, PwC Canada, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 905 815 6432

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