Before COVID, my daily work routine involved the gym at 6 a.m. followed by a trip to Starbucks at 8 a.m. so I could be in the office by 8:30 a.m. (with a piping hot venti dark roast in hand). During COVID, I still get my exercise in, but on my home elliptical and I still get my coffee from Starbucks, but through their app and curbside pick-up.
I have adapted. In fact, I find Starbucks’ app and curbside pick-up a time saver. Finance chiefs and their teams have adapted to COVID too, beefing up investments in e-commerce and curbside pickup, knowing that many of their previous in-store customers are working from home and feel more comfortable purchasing at a distance. According to Forbes, “49% of [retail] customers have downloaded more than two or more apps during the pandemic.” CFOs anticipate customers will continue to use apps and curbside pickup after the pandemic as well. They say consumers’ widespread adoption of this new purchasing behavior is a permanent trend.
Finance teams are also improving remote financial closings with automation and cloud-based automation tools. According to Deloitte, many finance teams were already exploring or implementing these technologies prior to the pandemic, identifying ways real-time or continual close technologies could gather, verify, and report enterprise-wide financial data. The ease and accuracy in which technology can perform routine or rule-based tasks is seen as an opportunity for accounting and finance professionals to concentrate on higher-value work. IMA President and CEO Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE, recently spoke with Accounting Today about the need for the management accounting community to embrace technology and to upskill in technologies like automation or data analytics.
To better gauge the impacts of COVID-19 on the finance function, IMA conducted a survey of 1,481 accounting and finance professionals located in five countries: China, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States, posing questions related to COVID impacts on staffing, revenue management, upskilling, and reskilling. A key finding of the survey was the concern by finance and accounting professionals about whether their current professional skills will still be relevant in the post-COVID-19 era—12% of survey respondents believe their skills won’t be relevant, and another 10% are unsure. In this context, it is clear why professional associations like IMA are emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and offering courses in data analytics, blockchain, and other technologies, as a way of helping professionals gain the skills they need to compete in the new post-COVID world of work.
Technology is reshaping finance, but these skills are not the only ones required to succeed in a rapidly changing, risky, and uncertain world. Adapting to new norms also requires finely tuned soft skills. For example, a finance team attempting to close the books remotely must be able to pull together as a team, trust each other, and communicate often and early. These are all soft skills built through collaboration and trust, distinctly human facilities.
It is this human factor that can be a wild card. Amid the pandemic, professionals with children are juggling home-schooling with their own jobs. In cases where a family member becomes ill, the demands to balance home and work become even greater. Harvard Business Review recently offered some advice for collaborating during a crisis. Their advice stems from observing people’s reactions to crisis. For instance, when people experience stress, they may become more risk-averse, hampering their creativity and willingness to collaborate. Their tips for leaders include, “Encourage naïve questions and constructive challenge,” and “Reinforce the business’s purpose and goals frequently.” Most importantly, when teams are working well and supporting one another, leaders should draw attention to it and champion a collaborative rather than a go-it-alone approach.
Nobody knows how long the COVID crisis will continue or what measures may be necessary to contain it. But it is clear the world of retail, finance, and many other industries has changed dramatically because of it. Technology is making it easier for people to work remotely, but collaboration is what is helping them succeed.