PwC-ACCA research reveals finance functions must be more strategic

05 October, 2020

  • Irish finance functions lag global peers on strategy
  • More investment needed in skills and technology
  • Finance community needs to think more broadly than just finance

These are some of the key findings from a new ACCA-PwC report 'Finance Insights – Reimagined' published. Based on interviews with over 3,500 finance professionals around the world, including 100 in Ireland, the research explores the trends and projections for how finance functions need to adapt in a world of fast-moving change.

An aerial photo of Dublin city at dusk.

Irish finance functions lag global peers on strategy

The finance function of the future needs to be a strategic business partner, primarily forward looking and delivering vital business insight. This is even more important as COVID-19 continues to impact businesses. However, only 32% of Irish finance professionals reported that their finance function truly operates as a strategic business function which has earned the right to be a fundamental part of decision-making, behind international counterparts (37%). Less than one in ten believe that their finance function is primarily focused on future performance (Global: 8%; Ireland: 8%). At the same time, less than half (43%) said that the role is predominantly proactive in approach (Global: 55%).

Amy Ball PwC Consulting Partner commented, "Defining the role of the finance function as a strategic business partner has become ever more important. Traditionally a lot of finance activity has focused on reporting the historic. Finance teams need to deliver new insights in more relevant ways in order to address business needs. A failure to do so also threatens to marginalise the finance function allowing other parties to exploit the demand for this new approach. And with the uncertainties presented by COVID-19, being able to scenario plan and make quick decisions based on forward looking accurate data is critical".

Few see 'problem-solving' as a valuable skill – Ireland lagging

Few Irish (14%) and global (23%) respondents ranked 'problem-solving' as a valuable skill. This may indicate a marked reticence in evolving the finance function towards a strategic business partner – albeit global peers are ahead. The survey highlights the key barriers to future progress including: lack of clarity of their role; too historic, not forward-thinking; poor technology and lack of skills.

Clive Webb Senior Insights Manager at ACCA said, "The survey highlights that there is a need to develop a finance skill set to accommodate the shift of the finance function to become more strategic: one that embraces a range of technical skills, softer skills and business acumen driven by a new world view. And digital skills are so important in an era of remote working, where much of the workforce may remain at home for a long time yet".

More investment needed in technology

Jens Gladikowski Director at PwC Consulting said, "The survey highlights that finance professionals have more work to do to get the best value from technology. Technology and the availability of 'clean' data clearly have an important role to play in achieving relevant insights. The strategic finance function needs to fully embrace the need to invest in the essential technology as part of the digital transformation agenda. The opportunities that advanced In the evolution from 'big data' to 'smart data', the finance function has a key role to play in ensuring the integrity of data and generating insight from it. 43% of Irish respondents reported that they already had 'oversight of data integrity' ahead of global counterparts (35%), but there is clearly more work to be done".

"Just three out of ten (30%) Irish respondents also believe that self-service reporting, AI and machine learning has already or will shortly free up business partner time from previous responsibilities (Global: 28%). The survey further suggests that the shift towards finance professionals who support insight generation will be at a slower pace in Ireland (33%) compared to global counterparts (38%).analytics and robotics should also not be overlooked".

Future vision – Finance community needs to think more broadly than just finance

There is a recognition that the finance community needs to think more broadly than just about finance, including having an influence in wider business areas such as HR, social and corporate responsibility and climate change. According to the survey there is an increasing expectation that finance professionals will become more involved in these areas in the future. For example, currently 12% of respondents have a role in climate change decisions while 30% believe they will play a role in three to five years' time.

Clive Webb concluded, "Any lack of clarity in the role of the finance function also suggests a cultural issue. Many of those interviewed commented that the key to successful insight was the culture of the organisation: the ability to be agile and to encourage collaboration across departments and teams. The effective finance function needs to be the ultimate agile collaborator and communicator".

Spokespeople are available; please contact Johanna Dehaene.

About the research

The role of the finance function in organisations is changing, not least in the way that it provides its stakeholders with insights based upon a range of data sources. COVID-19 has accelerated this change. This global research by ACCA, in association with PwC, summarised in this new report 'Finance Insights – Reimagined' explores the trends and projections for how finance functions need to adapt. The insights are based upon several interviews and roundtables conducted with ACCA members and other interested parties and the results of a survey of 3,502 accountancy and finance professionals, including ACCA members and future members, contacts and clients of PwC and members of the Shared Service Forum based in India, which was conducted in February 2020. Countries surveyed include: United Kingdom, Malaysia, mainland China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mauritius, Republic of Ireland (100 participants), Zimbabwe and Ghana.

Find the ACCA-PwC report 'Finance Insights – Reimagined'.

About ACCA

ACCA is the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. We're a thriving global community of 227,000 members and 544,000 future members based in 176 countries that upholds the highest professional and ethical values.

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Contact us

Amy Ball

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 5836

Jens Gladikowski

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8455

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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