8 lessons European finance leaders learnt from the pandemic

Leaders shared at a recent event what they had learned from the pandemic — from the benefits of automation to the need for bold decisions.


Over the past year and more, European finance professionals have helped guide their businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. They have played a key role in supporting their organisations to first navigate the initial shock and panic and then reset their strategies in response to events.

At a recent Money Talks roundtable, hosted virtually by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA & CIMA), a panel of European finance leaders discussed the challenges they faced during the pandemic.


Their key learnings were:

  1. The crisis has highlighted efficiency opportunities. Using digital tools to run meetings and workshops drives efficiency because it saves employees’ time and reduces travel costs. Homeworking has also resulted in many organisations’ choosing to scale back their real estate footprint.
  2. Automation can help drive profitability. The finance leader of an airline group explained that linking the company’s operational system with its accounting system had allowed it to create a real-time P&L for each flight, enabling the business to undertake quick analysis and allocate airplanes, pilots, and crews to profitable routes.
  3. Sell the benefits of digital transformation to drive culture change. It is essential that finance professionals bring leaders and colleagues with them on the transformation journey. They can do this by involving the business in decisions around new systems and explaining how the systems will help them in their work.
  4. Don’t put off bold decisions. During a crisis, businesses may be cautious about taking investment decisions. In doing so, however, they could miss out on opportunities to better serve their customers and grow their markets.
  5. Maintain the agility, flexibility, and pace to adapt to fast-changing circumstances. Going forward, finance teams should look to maintain the agility and creativity they demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis. They also need to support their companies’ efforts to innovate — for example, by developing new products or services or changing the channels to market. Agility requires finance teams to make decisions at a rapid rate, without necessarily having access to solid financial analysis.

Increasingly, they are spending less time on forecasting and more time analysing different scenarios and the implications of these for the organisation. Many organisations have completely stopped doing three-year plans. One finance leader described the new agile approach of finance professionals as “adapt to win” and indicated that at the moment progress is more valued than perfection.

  1. Engagement underpins productivity in remote teams. By having a weekly check-in with the members of their team, finance leaders can help to maintain morale. Celebrating wins is also a good way to keep people engaged. To avoid overload, people should be encouraged to separate their work and home lives.
  2. Establish an agreed protocol for running an online meeting. Many finance professionals had little experience with videoconferencing prior to 2020 and were initially reluctant to switch on their cameras during meetings. One finance leader suggested that a good approach to online meetings is to ask everyone present to switch their cameras on at the start and when speaking. Collaboration tools, such as Miro, can help finance professionals work together more effectively.
  3. Remote working offers opportunities to recruit from a broader talent pool. Finance teams can now recruit staff from smaller cities and towns in their countries and even from other countries, depending on the sector they operate in.


Rise of the chief value officer

The roundtable highlighted that as well as advancing digital transformation, the pandemic has served to accelerate the transformation of chief financial officers into chief value officers. Increasingly, finance leaders are expected to take a holistic view of all the value generated by their organisation —  both financial and nonfinancial — and this trend is likely to accelerate further as the recovery gathers pace. By taking fast and bold decisions, they’re able to grab opportunities.


Adapted from Financial Management Magazine, By Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, 7 April 2021, “Digital transformation: 8 lessons from European finance leaders”



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