The Digital Office of Finance: Shifting Mindsets and Driving New Business Models

As finance becomes ever more digitised, the back office must be transformed. Now is the time for firms to eliminate inefficiencies and become fully agile.

Andy Campbell, global solution evangelist at FinancialForce, analyses current trends in the financial services industry and how firms can keep pace with customer demand.

In the digital age, the finance function of old is no longer sufficient. Whilst generating reports, budgets, and plans will still remain core to finance’s day-to-day activities, the modern business landscape moves quickly, and the finance team needs to be similarly agile to keep up.

Digital transformation across businesses and whole industries requires finance departments which can support new business models, plan for agility, create outcome-based versus product-based offerings, and identify new joint venture opportunities. In short, finance needs to move away from bean counting and work more closely with internal stakeholders and customers to provide innovative experiences and organisation-wide value.

This is a radical transformation of what has come before, and requires a similarly radical shift in long-established mindsets both within the finance department as well as the rest of the organisation. If this change in mindset can be achieved, finance teams can start to take advantage of the data analytics solutions now more widely available. With a new level of visibility offered through rich, timely data and advanced analytical tools, businesses are making changes to embrace new models. The finance function is having to increase its agility in order to deliver and support the overall business.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in this transformation. It has shone a light on business inefficiencies, and as a result, has acted as a catalyst for digital transformation, speeding up digital initiatives. We have seen more change in the last six months than we have in the previous six years. Additionally, the focus on managing cash more effectively to ensure survival has meant that the transformation focus that was typically centred around the front office – the way we deal with our customers – has changed. We are now seeing a growing interest in transforming the back office.

The finance function is having to increase its agility in order to deliver and support the overall business.

This will not happen overnight, and there are five key shifts that a business needs to make to transition from the traditional finance department to a digital office of finance.

Shifting from financial-only proficiency to enterprise-wide know-how

Financial metrics will always be important, but the modern finance leader needs to broaden and develop an understanding of KPIs in other areas of the business too. They should have knowledge of both customer experience and satisfaction, in addition to conversion rate optimisation and employee retention to round out existing analysis. This presents a massive contrast to accounting teams from years gone by, with the modern finance leader having evolved into a major business stakeholder. The focus is no longer just on the finance element, but also on creating and continuously strengthening healthy customer relationships and customer lifetime value.

Shifting from monthly reporting, to real-time decision-making

Today, monthly closes or quarterly reviews are too slow. Decisions need to be made using real-time data every time. Accuracy and speed are paramount when it comes to making sure that a business is successful. Understanding what is involved in creating and delivering a new offering – and being able to course-correct to maximise profitability or customer satisfaction – can no longer wait until the end of the month or quarter. As such, a business must invest in business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, so as to quickly derive insights about how the business is performing, and to subsequently act on said insights.

Shifting from static forecasts to rolling forecasts

If finance departments are to switch to a weekly or even daily forecasting schedule they’ll need technology to support their endeavours. Modern forecasts must account for several different models, constantly shifting sets of variables and the use of new technology like AI. This requires organisations to build agility across a number of business risk scenarios, such as price wars, natural disasters, or the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Shifting from financial analyst to business model strategist

For businesses to remain one step ahead of the competition, they need to be constantly searching for new revenue streams. This could be considering how to turn services into products (or vice versa), or creating new offers or bundles for customers and presenting them in a different and unique manner. Central to enabling these new approaches is real-time data, as it provides visibility into both what sells, and what deliveries the highest margin. From this, they can then pinpoint the top performers and double down on them.

Shifting focus from product to customer success

Many sectors of the economy have already transitioned to a services and subscription renewals model. With this change comes a renewed need for businesses to redouble their focus on customer experience. Finance leaders need full visibility over each and every account in order to enable smarter decision making. This means becoming more engaged with their customers, so as to ensure satisfaction and retention. Customer onboarding, service delivery, support, or other post-sales functions: finance leaders must get closer to all of them. Only then can those deep insights into customer behaviour, as well as service and product quality, be uncovered so as to make sure that the needs of the customer are fully met.

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