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Data, Insight and Collaboration – The New Finance Function

In recent years, we've seen the Finance Function evolve rapidly into a department that doesn't just look backwards but is stepping forward to become valued business partners, included in strategic decision making, and at the forefront of technological advances. The current climate has only solidified the importance of the Finance Function and it's continuing need to evolve with business requirements. In the wake of the country-wide lockdown, businesses are starting to return to a version of normal. This means that businesses will be rushing to obtain accurate forecasting so they can get a tighter grip on costs and are able to navigate the effects of COVID-19. The Finance Function is being called upon for anything from rapid, short-term Forecasting/Modelling and revised cost allocation to 3-phase Strategic Planning and Funding to relieve a mighty headache for Share and Stakeholders. As a response to this, we've seen an increase in demand for data from all areas of finance that are traditionally associated with the FP&A and commercial Finance Functions. Financial Controllers are now increasing their modelling capabilities too and using this to drive their decision-making process and increase visibility for the C-Suite/SLT. This core trend is expanding the Modelling capabilities across the whole Finance Function meaning that data analytics tools such as SQL, Power BI and Tableau are being used more than ever to satisfy the demand for Scenario Planning and Modelling at very short notice. It is because of this focus on data, insight and collaboration that Finance Functions have been less affected by COVID-19 than other professions. Their role is rapidly evolving to solidify their place in helping businesses to weather the storm. Fewer people have been let go and these are some of the first hires we're seeing in the market as business starts to get going again. If you'd like to discuss how your role is evolving or are interested in seeking new opportunities, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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How has digital transformation affected you in 2020?

Whether you realise it or not you have been living in a new digital world, working from home, shopping online, consuming tailored advertising or even countless Zoom quizzes with family and friends. The fact the pandemic closed offices, shops and restaurants has showcased the value of digital operating models and have pushed the hands of business leaders of all sizes to focus and invest in digital innovation and transformation. According to a global research study from IFS 52% of companies stated they will increase their spending on digital transformation despite the disruption caused by the current economic conditions. The ability to provide process transparency and the necessary analytics to ensure effective and informed decision-making is critical in these trying times. Each organisation will have its own digital roadmap and will be at different stages of their journey. For example, there will be those that have a lot of paper processes, which can be hard to imagine in today’s world, however, some factories and manufacturing plants were built a long time ago and never took the opportunity to modernise. Then there are those organisations that are farther along their digital journey and are focused on trying to get more out of the digital processes and data that they already have in place. Ultimately digital transformation is about how a business can change the way it interacts with its customers to provide an improved and seamless customer experience. When personal interaction was removed by COVID-19 businesses had to look to their digital capabilities to see where they could alter their approach to keep engaged with customers. This could be something as visible as improving a mobile app or website front end to make it easier to use, or something a bit more complicated at the back end such as moving from on-premise infrastructure to the cloud and utilising algorithms to provide better BI from data lakes. The powers that be must be wary though as whilst technology is at the forefront of digital transformation, all types of change must be embraced by the employees that will be working with the new processes. Culture change can take time but if the hearts and minds of the organisation are on board with the change then the transformation will be easier to deliver, the technology and operating processes will embed faster and the benefits will be realised quicker. Of course, digital transformation cannot rescue businesses from an economic downturn on its own. However, it’s now more than likely to be on the agenda at all board meetings and to think all it took was a global pandemic. How has your life been affected by digital transformation since lockdown? Contact us now to discuss digital transformation further.

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How to prepare for returning to the workplace

With the lockdown slowly lifting across more and more industries, businesses are considering the future of working in an office environment and how to do so safely. We will look at how businesses are planning their return to the office and what their new normal may look like. Preparation No matter the approach your business decides to make, there will be a lot of preparation and planning involved in the process. This doesn't have to make the situation overly complex or convoluted, simple processes which are communicated clearly are the key to success. Many businesses are building protocols for new internal processes such as cleaning on arrival and exit of a work station, washing external items being introduced into the workplace (e.g prepared meals or personal packages) and their own track & trace systems. These protocols can, depending on the nature of your business, include external policy. An external protocol will ensure your staff are safe when they are out of your controlled working environment. We've already seen examples of business meetings moved to outside locations and staff making pre-meeting checks to ensure they are able to social distance. Responsibility Even the best-laid plans will crumble without employee buy-in. It's important that even before an employee steps back into your office that they are bought-in to the new processes and protocol. Ensuring your managers are not only communicating the changes but enforcing them will be vital to any plan. Breaking down employee, manager, HR and real estate services responsibilities will help keep your message clear. Reintroducing staff Over the lockdown period, we hosted a number of webinars around mental health in the workplace. A key takeaway for many attendees was a mindful reintroduction of staff to the workplace. This means ensuring that you're communicating and discussing changes with your employees early and considering the mental health ramifications of furloughing staff and lockdown workloads have had on your employees. Many businesses are putting in place socially distance working environments where they can. This additional space requirement means that there is less workspace in many offices, and as an added safety precaution many businesses are introducing split teams, staggered hours and attendance rotations. This blend of remote work and office work means increasing employee engagement and still retaining a safe environment for work.

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Are you at the newly qualified crossroads?

So, you are either newly qualified or recently qualified and you have reached the crossroads in your career. After completing your training in audit, accounts preparation or management accounts you feel for certain it is time for a change in direction of your day job and the bright lights of commercial finance are calling your name. However, given the current availability of vacancies in the market based upon the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important now more than ever to carefully weigh up your options and consider what move is going to continue adding value to your career and help achieve your end goal. In this article, we will be briefly exploring how to weigh your options between financial accounting positions and commercial finance and why both can be equally as valuable to your career path. Financial Accounting When we talk about financial accounting positions, we are often looking at roles that feature a financial controls element in their day to day duties. As well as the standard duties such as the preparation of financial statements, statutory accounts, VAT & Tax work etc there is a big opportunity to get some added value-based work on your CV. This regularly comes through working on continuous improvement projects based around existing reporting processes, controls and systems. Often when organisations are investing in qualified staff for these roles they are looking for candidates that can bring new ideas with them to assist in streamlining the departments work processes, seeking out cost-saving efficiencies and getting the best out of the team around them. Often you can find yourself getting exposure to system-based work as well such as road-mapping for a new ERP/software/database implementation or working on a migration project which further down the line can be a pivotal experience to draw upon when you are in a position to be applying for senior leadership roles. Commercial Finance This is a rather broad area of finance but often we are approached by candidates specifically seeking out these types of role in the shape of FP&A, Analyst or Business Partnering positions. Frequently these types of roles give you as the candidate an opportunity to work with the business and its stakeholders to provide insight into business performance and highlighting key areas to drive profit for the organisation. Typical duties you will find at this level as a newly qualified will be working with stakeholders and budget holders in the business, reviewing budgets & forecasts and analysing results, reviewing KPIs and considering costs, margins, profit by product etc that overall affects the performance of the business. Summary The key thing to remember when taking your next step is what you want to achieve in your career. You will rarely find CFOs or Finance Directors who have not carried out their fair share of financial and technical accounting positions post-qualifying as well as picking up the commercial experience along the way. You will find that commercial finance roles will often still feature some tasks that are often associated with technical roles such as financial reporting and consolidations. What is to say that picking up a financial accounting role now for 2 - 3 years working closely with a high calibre mentor won’t give you enough experience and exposure to seek out that dream commercial role in the future? It is important to delve into the finer detail of the role, do not take the job title for granted or specification as an exhaustive list of what the job will entail. Consider what internal/external relationships you will be fostering within that business, what are the businesses strategic objectives and which areas can you add value in the business if you were to join. If you'd like to discuss your career path further, please don't hesitate to contact me on hunter@consultancygroup.com

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The Evolving Role of the Tax Professional

In recent times the tax professional has seen an unprecedented amount of change across their specialism including regular developments to regulation, compliance, workplace environments and technology. Demands from businesses are falling more on the tax department to increase efficiency and contribute more to overall growth. Over the last twelve months, we’ve spoken to tax professionals to discover how their role is changing and how they are evolving with it. With an increased drive towards automation, and technology solutions becoming more commonplace in many organisations, we are now seeing the role of the tax professional evolving to meet demands in other parts of the business. An increased focus on upskilling and the broadening of skill sets is becoming far more apparent. For organisations, providing training for upskilling has become an important factor in employee retention with a large percentage of tax professionals saying it increases employee engagement and satisfaction. The upskilling trend has already started to slowly create new niche roles with the emergence of the Tax Technologist, a data analytics and tax specialist. This is the spark of a more diverse tax landscape and a fundamental change on how tax professionals can develop into specialisations with the market. Employees aren’t just choosing to focus on hard skills though, with many looking to train emotional intelligence and communication skills. They are embracing soft skills as a way to improve efficiency and working relationships with colleagues and clients. COVID-19 has been a key factor in the evolution of how we all work over these last few months. The tax profession is no exception, with employees taking on alternative work arrangements such as remote working. This sudden change to our workplace environment had many organisations and tax departments in an initial state of uncertainty, namely around how they will cope and adapt to this new style of working. However, if these past weeks have shown us anything it is that these new arrangements can and do work efficiently, and we anticipate it is likely that these changes will become more commonplace in the future and become a key factor in how employers can attract or keep talent on board. Businesses have also quickly evolved in the current climate to embrace systems such as online training systems and cloud-based work environments. Technology isn’t the only way businesses are changing, many are taking on agile methodologies as a way to combat distance between employees. What these last few months have shown us all, is that an ability to be agile and adapt to change proves to be a very useful skillset, and if nurtured in the correct way can be extremely effective. This attitude is mirrored for the tax professional, where a positive attitude towards upskilling, and a willingness and ability to adapt to change will benefit the personal and future career development of the tax professional in this ever-evolving tax landscape.

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