Management accountants are playing a central role in shaping the recovery plans of their organizations, as they move past crisis management of COVID and focus on positioning their organizations for long-term growth. As International Management Accounting Day® approaches, a day we celebrate on May 6 in celebration of the global management accounting profession. We see management accountants at the frontlines of business continuity, adapting financial close processes for remote execution, shifting into a more strategic mindset where they use modeling and forecasting skills to anticipate changes ahead. According to Gartner’s March 2020 survey of CFOs and their strategies for handling COVID, accounting and finance teams’ readiness to execute the financial close remotely ran along a wide spectrum, with 37% of respondents indicating they could execute all processes remotely, 53% of respondents indicating they could execute all but a few remotely, and 8% indicating a significant proportion of these processes could not be executed remotely. 

Since March 2020, CFOs and the accounting and finance teams they lead have adapted to a “new normal” of COVID. McKinsey reports increased pressure and responsibilities on accounting and finance to steer their organizations through the crisis. The priorities include ensuring adequate liquidity, reformulating communications to stakeholders like investors, employees, and the market, turbocharging financial planning and analysis, accelerating digital transformation, and most importantly, upskilling accounting and finance talent. 

Long before COVID upskilling was on the mind of many finance and accounting professionals. According to IMA’s recent survey, “The Impact of COVID-19 on The Finance Function,” 78% of respondents were already interested in upskilling or reskilling prior to the pandemic. Now there is significant concern among survey respondents as to whether their current professional skills will still be relevant in the post-COVID-19 era—12% believe their skills will not be relevant, and another 10% are unsure. 

The skills these professionals plan on improving include cost management, business partnering, performance measurement, working capital management, cash forecasting, management reporting, scenario modeling, risk management, and tax planning. Enabling technologies like data analytics, cloud computing, AI, blockchain, RPA, and automation are also on the must-have technology skill list of management accountants. Using these technology tools to create greater efficiencies and more accurate outputs is a theme IMA’s President and CEO, Jeff Thomson, has discussed frequently in his CFO Insights for Forbes. 

Underneath this desire to upskill is greater optimism about economic recovery. In IMA and ACCA’s most recent 1Q 2021 Global Economic Trends survey, released in April 2021, global confidence experienced its largest jump in the history of the survey. North America led other regions in confidence, with the confidence index reaching 40%. When asked when they expected substantial economic recovery in their region, the Asia Pacific and North America regions most frequently reported that economic recovery was already established. Other regions such as Western Europe, the Middle East, and Africa pushed their recovery expectations further out. 

As vaccines become more widely available and businesses reopen, pent-up consumer demand is expected to be considerable. Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, has described consumers’ personal balance sheets as healthy. Whether this will lead to a huge recovery is still up for debate. But it is an improvement from where things were in March 2020. 

There are still a great many unknowns, and accounting and finance teams must remain agile and flexible. They should be congratulated for steering their organizations through immediate crisis, but their greatest challenge may lie in anticipating what is next. Upskilling in the critical areas outlined in this piece is a strategic game plan many will put into practice. IMA will be there to support them as organizations look to accounting and finance for guidance and advice on how to capitalize on the COVID recovery. This year as we celebrate International Management Accounting Day®, we will also be celebrating a move towards recovery and the unique role management accountants are playing in that effort. 

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