Say goodbye to the finance function

Written to inspire new and different thinking amongst finance leaders, this is the second in a three-part series addressing how finance leaders can accelerate their digital agenda. Additional topics cover “Lead or be led” and the “Practice Applied Intelligence.”

Forty-eight percent of CFOs surveyed by Accenture Strategy believe that digital technologies will fundamentally change finance.1 As finance organizations begin this digital transformation, most teams are contemplating their future. While few have surmised the total impact of change to the function, Accenture Strategy experience suggests that 80 percent of traditional finance is at risk. Today’s process-centric organizations are on the verge of obsolescence with procure-to-pay (P2P), order-to-cash (O2C), and record-to-report (R2R) becoming irrelevant.

This chart shows the future finance operating model with finance skills, integration centers and intelligence back office.

Source: Accenture Strategy

Within traditional finance operating models, most companies have implemented first if not second generation Shared Services focused on standardizing common, repeatable and highly transactional tasks. Corporate Centers have largely focused on consolidations and management reporting activities, while other finance teams responsible for planning, forecasting, and basic business decision support reside in Centers of Excellence (CoEs) or are embedded directly within the Business Unit (BU).

The truth about these models is they are overly burdened with legacy issues.

  • Accounting centric
  • Reporting driven
  • Expense focused
  • Backward looking
  • Spreadsheet enabled

Over the next 24-36 months, a new kind of finance operating model will emerge. This digitally-driven reinvention is underpinned by three (3) profound changes.

This chart shows the future finance operating model with finance skills, integration centers and intelligence back office.

Source: Accenture Strategy

Profound change #1

The concept of shared services will remain. However, the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) required to support shared service activities has the potential to decrease by 50-60 percent.2 Capturing nearly two-thirds of the cost reduction opportunity in finance, P2P, O2C, and R2R processes will become highly automated.3

Similar to a metal chain, these end-to-end finance processes represent a serial assembly of connected pieces, or links, done uniformly. Today, each finance professional is focused on executing tasks specific to their link within that chain. For example, journal entries in support of period close.

Tomorrow, as most links have the potential for automation, processes that were once supported by accountants or financial analysts will now be supported by bots, machine learning techniques, or Artificial Intelligence enabling the finance professional to reskill/ upskill in support of higher value work. For example, moving from processing payables to deriving insights from spend analytics.

Profound change #2

Finance shifts from service provider to enterprise enabler with the emergence of three new capabilities. Working on horizontally structured teams, finance professionals will drive business outcomes for the enterprise.

  1. Control Tower: This new capability provides business leaders with a single view of their financial footprint—including "connected" information about regulations, risks, tax, treasury, compliance, and investor relations. Executives are facing new demands to drive growth, improve profitability, be nimble and flexible, improve security and risk management, and meet changing customer needs. The Control Tower uses a single source of data and leverages applied intelligence to foster increased collaboration, transparency, and alignment across the business.
  2. Enterprise Data & Analytics (EDA) Hub: Supporting the desire for organizations to become data driven, the EDA hub is structured to create a connected ecosystem of data, technology, tools, techniques, people, and processes. Intentionally employed to produce insights to solve real business problems and empower the decision-making process, the strategic enablers include:
    • C-suite alignment and sponsorship
    • Senior leaders acting as "one team" through collaboration bullpens
    • Workforce transformation and adoption of new ways of working
    • Data @ the core
    • Digital technologies and platforms leveraged to the fullest extent
  3. Digital Value Stewardship: Representative of the next generation of finance professionals, this team is comprised of digital innovators/ strategists, finance translators, and data scientists that combine:
    • Technology insights
    • In-depth finance/ business knowledge
    • Advanced modeling techniques

For business leaders who need to identify, test, and understand the value of their respective digital strategies, this team provides guidance on interventions as well as monitors value creation. For the C-suite and Board, the team provides fact-based, enterprise-wide analysis to inform the company’s investment strategy and digital roadmap.

Profound change #3

As boards continue to increase the level of scrutiny and oversight of management, CFOs need more than ever to focus on board interaction. Imagine as the CFO walks into a board meeting shifting the conversation from updates on tactical, cost management initiatives toward ROI performance supporting multi-million-dollar profitable growth programs. Nothing in the company is off limits. The record needs to show Finance has evolved from skimming the periphery of the business ecosystem to a permanent force at its core.

While there is no exact blueprint for success, there are many examples that offer insight into the approaches and actions CFOs are taking. Finance teams will be rewarded less for providing a service that fills transactional requests, and more for their effectiveness and discernment. The Finance organization will enable the activities that differentiate a company in the market, and find new, comprehensive ways to deliver innovative solutions and incremental value to the business. CFOs are poised to take center stage.

1Accenture Strategy Digital Adoption in Finance survey, September 2016

2Accenture Strategy, CFOs: The digital kingdom’s new ruler, 2017

3Accenture Strategy estimates based on insights from client experience

Athena Reilly

Managing Director – Finance Strategy & Analytics


Improving processes through automation
Digital finance agenda: 3. Practice applied intelligence

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