If we were to start with a blank sheet of paper, it’s unlikely we would create the Finance functions we have today. In recent years, predictions have even been aired that Finance will soon cease to exist as a business function altogether. Here is a sneak peak into how the Finance function might actually be evolving over the coming years.
Finance has constantly been evolving ever since the first bean was counted. In the 1400’s, Venetian merchants introduced the double-entry book-keeping system, while in the 1600’s joint stock companies were formed to finance expeditions to The New World. New industries emerged during the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution and capital markets developed as companies turned to stock exchanges for financing, increasing the need for consistent financial reporting. A further demand for financial discipline, control, and transparent reporting followed the crash of stock markets in the early 1900’s. Towards the end of the 20th century, the introduction of spread-sheets, computer-assisted analysis, and ERP systems brought great technological changes to the Finance function.
But what happens next? The historical changes mentioned above – and the fact that they appear to be happening at an increasingly greater pace – leaves no hint that the Finance function will stay as we know it today. At a time when growth opportunities are hard to identify and even harder to capitalise upon, Finance is being challenged more than ever to give businesses the edge. The challenges from new and existing stakeholders around conventional approaches to reporting are also putting increased pressure on Finance at a time when cost is still high on the agenda.
The role of Finance leaders is bound to continue evolving, and so the question remaining is: what will the Finance function look like in the future? The 4 principles of Navigation, Mediation, Resilience and Connectivity are focused on how Finance can make itself more effective at enabling and driving strategy, mediating external stakeholders, making the organisation more resilient and streamlining itself by connecting different areas.
Future Finance functions will be required to help create the conditions for effective Navigation of the enterprise, providing more flexible and adaptive processes with near real-time reporting, rapidly produced analytics and dynamic and integrated forecasting, all of which will meet the needs of the business in its pursuit of growth strategies. Finance needs to provide a process where the interaction around these accounting and reporting processes delivers the right challenge and thought processes to navigate the business. There are great opportunities, but also pitfalls created by disruptive technologies. Aspects such as Big Data and predictive analytics further add to the tools and techniques Finance can deploy.
Future Finance functions will be representing the organization externally by engaging with a broader set of stakeholders who are hungry for information through increasingly diverse means. This will include facilitating an interactive environment much broader than traditional reporting, in which the organization can effectively share and discuss their wider performance and overall impacts on stakeholders. This will include customers, public interest groups, suppliers, governments and society as a whole, rather than just the shareholders. This mediation principle is equally applicable for internal stakeholders
Future Finance functions will be driving the business and themselves towards greater resilience, with the ability to absorb and bounce back from internal and external shocks. Finance should be at the heart of a drive towards increasing the adaptive capacity of the organization, including qualitative planning for unforeseen shocks, use of predictive analytics, and risk mitigation plans.
Future Finance functions will need to use systems and pool resources more efficiently to satisfy business needs. It’s the ability to find balance between man and machine, providing connectivity between different functional silos, systems and processes to create a more connected organization, which delivers what the Finance customers need in an effective way.
In summary, the challenge for Finance leaders is to look beyond the often quoted clichés of adding value to the business, and find new ways of navigating the organisation, offering more diverse and rewarding communication, enhancing resilience and providing a more connected Finance offering.
On Tuesday 25 November, the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium will host a seminar with Hans Verheggen, who will present and discuss PwC’s hypothesis of the Finance Function of the Future. Register for the free seminar HERE.