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Finance professionals need to do more to develop strategic influence

30 August, 2021

  • More Irish finance professionals suffering from mental health and well-being issues compared to global counterparts
  • Finance functions need to do more on climate change
  • Six key actions for the post-pandemic finance function
A photo of a young, professional black woman going through balance sheets on her computer.

Finance teams in Ireland and around the world need to do more to convince the leaders in their organisations that they should have a greater influence and strategic role in the business, a new PwC-ACCA survey reveals.

When asked if finance has become more relevant as a result of the pandemic less than one in three (28%) Irish finance professionals (Global: 34%) felt that has been the case; meaning the vast majority (72%) felt that they been unable to improve their influence and relevance amongst stakeholders during what has clearly been a period of great uncertainty. This is according to a new survey of over 3,000 finance leaders around the world including nearly 150 of business leaders in Ireland from the Association of Chartered Certified Accounts (ACCA) and PwC. Their report 'Finance Functions: Seizing the Opportunity' is published in Ireland today.

Author Clive Webb Head of Business Management at ACCA said, "Finance professionals must concentrate on investing in their own capabilities in data, technology, innovation, collaboration and strategy to step up their pivotal role in the post-pandemic era. Those organisations that had already started to adopt a digital transformation strategy had managed the pandemic better. There is an opportunity to build an even more relevant function, based on data, insights and collaboration. Finance teams cannot afford to lose sight of this".

More Irish finance professionals suffering from mental health issues than global peers

Over half (58%) of Irish respondents said that the most significant issue facing their finance function is the mental health and well-being of their employees, much higher than global counterparts (48%). Finance leaders need to continue to manage this issue, especially as they plan a potential return to the office. But there are signs that this may be impacting productivity.

The unrelenting demands of the last year have placed a strain on the mental health and well being of finance professionals globally and in Ireland. The report warns that they must ensure their own well-being if they are to remain valuable.

Interviewees globally and in Ireland reported that teams were feeling fatigued having worked harder in the last 12 months than they have ever done before. Adapting to 100% remote working has also proved difficult and draining for many. Nearly a third (32%) said the most significant issue facing their finance function is productivity (Global: 35%). However, new ways of working are beginning to emerge that increase productivity, collaboration and employee engagement.

Climate issues have taken a back seat

Less than one fifth (19%) of Irish finance leaders participating said that environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations were the top priority for their finance function (Global: 22%), raising a concern that issues such as the climate crisis have taken a back seat while organisations fire-fight the global pandemic. However, stakeholder interest in this area is growing rapidly and finance teams have an important part to play in explaining the organisation's journey.

Jens Gladikowski Director of Advisory Consulting in PwC Ireland commented: "Many respondents noted that the evolving regulatory and stakeholder pressure to collect data for non-financial reporting purposes, such as sustainability metrics, is starting to force attention on this within finance functions. Nonetheless, participants often commented that while they appreciated the issue, there was a lack of confidence in the data available and uncertainty about where to start, especially in relation to non-financial data. It is important that finance functions grasp the sustainability agenda and play their full role to achieve global targets".

The future: greater focus on technologies and mix of skills

73% of Irish respondents said that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on the technologies used in the finance function (Global:66%). For example, there will be even greater focus on cyber-risk, cloud-based solutions, cloud-based computing, scenario modelling and predictive analytics.

36% of Irish respondents said that the pandemic has had lasting impacts on the mix of skills needed in the finance function (Global: 41%). The report reveals how people's strategies in the finance function will change in the year ahead: 32% of Irish respondents will ramp up digital upskilling; 25% will redesign roles and career paths; 22% will establish virtual teams for the long term and 21% will introduce more flexible working.

Jens Gladikowski concluded: "We have seen many finance teams step up to the challenge, gaining greater respect and influence in the boardroom by bringing valuable insight to help tackle a wide range of business issues. Those who have invested in their people, technology and processes over recent years were clearly best able to adapt".

"The challenge now for finance functions is to build on the progress made during the pandemic and take a central role in defining business strategy and direction. It is critically important they do this at a time when business models are changing and stakeholder interest in broader measures of business performance is increasing".

The report also recommends a plan of action for finance professionals to retain their new-found status in organisations and capitalise on new opportunities.

Notes to editors

Post-pandemic action plan for finance: The report recommends six key actions for the post-pandemic finance function to consider.

  1. Redefine the focus of finance to include broader performance metrics for natural and human capital
  2. Invest in technologies that can be used to create and support an enterprise-wide data model
  3. Use predictive analytics based upon this model to drive more holistic business decision-making
  4. Enhance business partnering and analytical skills to ensure that finance can fulfil this new role across the organisation and continue to improve collaboration both across it and with external parties
  5. Drive for greater efficiency, productivity and standardisation across processes and common platforms
  6. Through these actions, establish finance as the central point within the organisation for achieving sustainable and responsible growth and enhancing the reputation of the organisation

About the survey

The ACCA-PwC survey drew responses from 3,064 ACCA members and affiliates, PwC contacts and various CFOs including 146 in Ireland. The responses came from a range of organisations and geographical regions. In addition to the survey, 12 round tables that involved senior finance leaders who were either ACCA members or PwC contacts were conducted in 10 locations. Several interviews were also conducted. The survey fieldwork was carried out in the Early Summer.

About ACCA

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global professional body for professional accountants.

We're a thriving global community of 233,000 members and 536,000 future members based in 178 countries and regions, who work across a wide range of sectors and industries. We uphold the highest professional and ethical values. We're a not-for-profit organisation.

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