How the CFO role is being disrupted by technology

Global ERP provider SYSPRO recently sponsored and participated in the awards ceremony for the Top 35-under-35 initiative, which was launched by Accountancy SA magazine to recognise some of the talented and future leaders of South Africa.

According to the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), Top 35-under-35 candidates  are young chartered accountants who have worked tirelessly to accomplish their career aspirations while changing the lives of the less fortunate in communities around them. The trend of disruption is also impacting the traditional CFO role, a topic that came under the spotlight at the awards.

(TOP: Sanjay Galal, Finance and Commercial Manager at SYSPRO Africa).

Sanjay Galal, Finance and Commercial Manager at SYSPRO Africa, and a SAICA judge, said digital disruption of the role of the CFO has already occurred and CFOs should embrace technology to gain an added advantage in the marketplace. For example, he says traditional, iterative accounting functions should be carried out by bots via the use of repetitive machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Galal says the CFO is moving from recording and presenting historical financial company information to using technology and innovations like big data and predictive analytics to help chart and plot the company’s future.

A strategic CFO is vital

“This is already prevalent, where the CFO is now more strategic in everything that he/she does. A heavy reliance is now placed on this custodian to pave the way forward but also to predict future performance, by providing stakeholders with real-time information and data to insightfully aid key decision-making.”

“Even in today’s tech world, finance teams spend far too much time on operational tasks rather than on data analysis. By automating the mundane, more time will be available to focus on the ‘mission critical’, enhancing the quality and impact of such decision-making.”

Galal says the reason why so many chartered accountants often end up as company CEOs is, firstly, due to their rigorous training, which sets them up with the right aptitude and resilience to push through and cope with varying and challenging situations.

Secondly, the ability to rove across business areas gives CFOs the depth to be able to impress upon and support key stakeholders.

Thirdly, having a strong finance base gives CFOs the edge in terms of executing strategies and managing risk, with the ultimate aim of driving both the top and bottom line. 

The role of technology as disruptor

So, how can a strategic and modern CFO use technology to boost productivity and profitability in an organisation?

“Automation of the mundane and providing visibility in real time is vital, enabling employees to make key decisions based on the relevant information and data provided. For example, giving the sales team real-time pricing information and the ability to quote via a mobile app while out in the field can result in many benefits.”

“Being able to provide the customer with real-time quotes (or changes on the spot) will significantly increase your chances of closing a deal quicker than your competitor.”

How can CFOs encourage their colleagues in finance to support much-needed entrepreneurship and leadership?

“The key to encouraging this is to push innovation and a different way of thinking when approaching the finance function and all its related parts. Coupled with this, one needs to adopt a ‘can-do attitude’ and ‘leading-by-doing’ approach in order to perform efficiently and effectively,” he says. 

SAICA Top 35-under-35 Initiative

An example of an entrepreneurial innovation by one of the participants in the Top 35-under-35 initiative is the biometric, identity and self-service solution for the developing world that empowers marginalised citizens to access bank accounts and social grants, and to participate in democratic national elections.

Further examples included the application developed within academia that integrates technology into teaching and learning processes, and the provision of financial systems for SMEs, enabling structuring, investment and growth of young businesses.

With regards to CSI and giving back, a stand-out was a non-profit medical research centre that is doing amazing work around HIV, TB and other diseases, including generating increased funding for further trials.

Last, but not least, there was also a social upliftment project to establish a training centre for unemployed members of society, to transform them into self-sustaining artisans in carpentry.

These talented individuals illustrated how chartered accountants can be effective and inspiring change agents of tomorrow.


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