The roles and responsibilities of CFOs and finance teams were already evolving before the global pandemic hit, but the challenges of COVID-19 accelerated the pace of this change. Finance leaders were asked to assist in ensuring business resilience in the short term, support commercial and operational recovery and drive the change required to adapt to the new business reality.

In October 2020, KPMG Australia surveyed more than 70 finance executives from financial institutions, corporates, government and not-for-profits to discover how COVID-19 had challenged their teams and businesses and how it reshaped their roles into the future. Interviews with 15 selected respondents to gather deeper insights into their new realities were also carried out.

The CFO and finance teams moved fast when the restrictions first kicked in. They supported staff to work remotely while protecting cash flow and funding. They were tasked with supporting businesses with customers who were under financial duress and worked to resolve supply chain issues and contract variations.

The results of this survey and subsequent interviews highlight just how the role of CFOs and finance teams has changed since the pandemic started. While the health and wellbeing of their staff is a key priority, there is also more of a focus now on cost reduction and cash management across the business with a continued expectation that the finance team provides more forward-oriented insights and analysis for internal decision support and external reporting.

It is now becoming more apparent that CFOs are expected to be responsible for the quality of all business data, including Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) and other non-financial data – financial rigour is being sought across other areas of the business that are critical to value and business success.

Finance leaders know that now, more than ever they need new or reskilled capabilities, alongside new technology and automation to meet these increasingly sophisticated information demands to better support business decision-makers in their organisation’s and the finance team’s new reality.

Read key insights below and our full report: Finance evolution – Insights from Australian CFOs and finance leaders on the impact of COVID-19 and their new reality.

Key CFO insights

A top priority of CFOs and finance leaders is the health and wellbeing of their teams

Sixty percent of CFOs and finance leaders said that since the start of the pandemic the health and wellbeing of their teams has been a top priority – and remains so.

Demands on finance teams seem set to grow further, by taking on strategic responsibilities and working to extract the benefits of new technology, in addition to BAU tasks. CFOs will have to pay even more attention to their team’s mental health and wellbeing.

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A broader, strategic role, supporting the whole business, though not all are ready for the step up

CFOs and finance teams have played a wider role than before and have been pivotal in supporting the organisation navigate through the COVID-19 crisis. Focus on costs has been combined with future-oriented activities such as scenario planning, increased management and board reporting.

Finance is now expected to continue to play a more significant role in modelling future risks and opportunities to support decisions; however, 23 percent say they aren’t ready.

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Finance to lead post-crisis cost management and rationalisation of operations, starting in finance – only half say they're in a position to drive technology changes

Finance teams’ initial priority on internal controls during remote working has moved on to supporting the organisation’s recovery from the crisis. They are expected to do this through tight cost management and rationalisation of operations.

CFOs are focusing on simplification of finance systems and increased automation and digitisation, but already-stretched teams find they lack the capacity to get the full business benefits of the new technology while undertaking BAU activities and also filling their more strategic role.

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Finance teams need to reskill to enable a ‘headcount-lite’ future, but many not prepared

The crisis has reinforced the importance of true business partners working closely with operating units to optimise business decision-making, but only 16 percent feel very prepared and have the right skills in place.

Finance teams are expected to step up to their broader responsibilities while also facing reduced headcount. They will need new inter-personal, digital and data analytical skills to optimise benefits of working with new technologies and still provide the business support required. Almost 40 percent of finance leaders said they were not prepared for this transformed ‘headcount-lite’ environment.

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CFOs say they are responsible for the quality of all business data and performance reporting, not just financial, but one-third not in a position to do so

More than 80 percent of CFOs agree that they must take ownership of the quality, timeliness and depth of all business performance information and insight, not just financial information. Finance leaders accept they are responsible for the effectiveness of controls over all systems and processes underpinning internal reporting – but 27 percent are not yet in a position to take on this role.

Over 75 percent agreed that finance will support those accountable for managing and reporting ESG and other non-financial information reported externally, ensuring it is underpinned by the same rigour and disciplines as that applied to financial information. 45 percent say they are not ready.

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