CFOs Take the Lead as We Reset for Growth

While 2020 was all about being laser-focused on reducing costs and gaining greater control over spending, many CFOs and financial leaders are now taking these same strategies and using them to fuel stronger and faster growth. Additionally, finance leaders are increasingly relying on digital technologies to drive productivity and efficiency gains and deliver data that generates key business insights, helping organisations to remain profitable while moving forward.

This was the focus of a recent CFO Magazine Lunchtime Live WebCast, where over 180 leading CFOs and business leaders came together to explore the way ahead through this stage of the pandemic and beyond. What’s critical at this juncture is expert process automation, being able to leverage large swathes of data to generate business intelligence and judiciously choosing growth opportunities.

Lorna Raine is the CFO for food manufacturer George Weston Foods. Raine says while the business is pursuing a range of different growth opportunities including new business channels there is still a lot of volatility in the operating environment.

“We are still navigating a lot of choppiness, such as rising commodity, labour and wages costs. but this We’re starting to talk about what the next three years will look like…. That’s a deliberate part of discussions with each of our businesses at our quarterly reviews. We are embracing change as permanent.”

David Spong, CFO Australia, New Zealand and Fiji at Ericsson, has a similar perspective. “We grew our business double digits last year. It was a year where we had our foot flat on the accelerator and flat on the brake at the same time and we were able to deliver several key projects ahead of time and budget, with exceptional customer satisfaction, all completely remotely.”

An example is a substantial 5G project Ericsson secured in New Zealand. While Spong was able to meet once face-to-face once with the customer’s C suite to negotiate a five-year contract, most of the transaction was completed remotely. “We were still able to build trust and credibility and support the customer to embrace change and see the opportunity.”

Doing business anywhere, any time

How to make the most of remote working has been a key learning through the pandemic. “Virtual teams can be more collaborative and even be in front of the customer more,” says Jonathan Beeby, Managing Director ANZ at SAP Concur.

Managing remote teams has been a huge focus for CFOs through the pandemic, says Spong. “We have a substantial shared services operation in India. So, at the height of the pandemic, we had to explore whether shared services had to be located in India or whether they could be somewhere else. What we’re now starting to see is more opportunities for people to be based in Australia. The time zone in which staff are based is becoming more important and this has presented an opportunity to explore how we could support other markets from here. We are now seeing some of these come to fruition with having people based in Australia and supporting other markets in the same time zone…”

Above all, COVID has been an important opportunity for CFOs to rethink automation and streamlining of processes. 

“Outsourcing and offshoring is a huge trend and there are dividends and rewards that come from this. But in some cases, all businesses have done is lift and shift, rather than look at how processes could be improved. Automating will immediately produce quick wins, but you don’t want to be automating a broken process because over time, you’ll automate yourself into a corner. A better approach is to explore process improvements; really focus on the process in addition to what the technology has to offer,” says Beeby.

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a real focus on process improvements in the back end of finance operations. We’ve worked with many organisations to help them digitise their invoice and expense management processes, because many teams and employees haven’t been able to go into the office to collect paper invoices or to lodge expense reports,” he adds.

At the moment, many CFOs are resetting for growth, looking at policies, systems, tools and technologies to manage costs and control growth. This relies on exceptional data.

“There’s a shift away from just trying to reduce the cost of processes to collecting good data and being able to do something with that data to produce sound business outcomes. We’re seeing organisations leverage new technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, coupled with more rigorous processes, to surface data from which to make good decisions. This lends itself to cloud environments,” Beeby adds.

To this end, Raine noted George Weston, whose products were accessed in “bricks and mortar” prior to the pandemic is now exploring how it can support the digital shift. “Online grocery shopping here to stay, which is a something we need to consider when we think about how shoppers access products and how we manage the supply chain.”

Over at Ericsson, Spong says future success relies on adaptability. “As a leader, it’s all about keeping an open mind and embracing the opportunity in the change.”

As Beeby says, what’s important now is a glass half full mindset. “The finance community has become very optimistic about the opportunity for transformation. Be prepared and get ready for growth and ongoing change now. It’s all about being able to pivot on a dime.”