How CFOs Can Level Up with Technology to Navigate a Turbulent Market

Rachel Greenway
Last updated on April 12, 2023

There’s no getting around it: times are tough right now for businesses. Turbulent market conditions mean an even more uncertain economic outlook. And that makes decision-making - particularly for CFOs, at the helm of company financing - a lot harder.  

At times like these, it makes perfect sense to pull back; tighten spending as you batten down the hatches while pressing ‘pause’ on investment plans for the future. What you don’t want to do, however, is completely lose sight of the big picture. 

If there’s one strategic move companies should still be making right now, it’s investing in in-house technology, even during a downturn. So, let’s explore why a recession can be a great time to invest in finance technology like automation and the cloud, especially with functions like payroll in mind where outdated legacy systems can drag you down.

A short-term mindset equals a false economy 

Of course, it can be tricky to commit to longer-term investments, particularly if your balance sheet’s a little sensitive and the numbers aren’t stacking up. When the payoff isn’t visible straightaway, it can be hard to justify spending that could actually benefit your team over the long run.  

But slashing costs in the short term shouldn’t be the only tactic you rely on from your playbook. There’s no denying that safeguarding and protecting are essential aspects of a CFO’s role, but so is enabling growth for your business’s future. 

If you want to avoid traps set by false economies, it’s vital to keep investing in new ideas that keep pace with shifting trends, like the digital revolution. 

Where others scale back, scale up 

In fact, it’s no secret that the future of finance is digital.

You only have to look around to see that we already exist in a digital era. For one, there’s a new wave of consumers and workers pouring into the market. They not only demand digital experiences but expect them. Whether it’s being able to check their bank balance on the fly or accessing their payslip online, the future employee is plugged-in and powered up

It’s a new business era that requires companies to be light on their feet. And that means grunt work will only slow you down. Instead, streamlining mundane tasks so they can be completed quickly and in bulk frees up more space for the kind of big-picture planning that gets you ahead. Charlie Robinson, Managing Director for the UK at Scaleup Finance, has experienced this first-hand.

“Board meetings are a perfect example of this. The conversation usually focuses on whether the underlying reporting data is correct, which information is missing and whether different KPIs should be used. Once you’ve streamlined your operational finance and reporting and you’ve got the data analysed, the conversation focuses on the impact of those KPIs and business implications. It’s a liberating feeling when you walk into those meetings with all the numbers at your fingertips.”

If you want to compete, the time to re-imagine old, outdated practices is now. Other companies may be scaling back. But the smart move is to scale up. The right technology can not only transform your processes but propel your business forward out of the storm. 

The time to activate your digital strategy is now 

If you’re not already convinced that doubling down on finance technology is a good idea, then let’s think about what can happen when you introduce things like automation, integration and cloud computing into your strategy. 

As you leverage technology throughout your business, silos fade away. Suddenly, departments from operations to sales have a common language and data set they can work from. The outcome? Finance leaders can anticipate risks more quickly while spotting opportunities as they bubble up across your enterprise. 

But more on this later as we delve into some of the ways you can activate your digital strategy today.

Five ways CFOs can level up with technology to thrive during a recession

Say ‘yes’ to automation

Gone are the days when completing a large number of tasks by hand could pass as ‘high productivity’. In today’s modern business world, you need to act swiftly while staying agile. Key to this is automating tasks that normally take hours into short quick bursts of highly focused work.

In short, automation is quickly becoming a game-changer, especially for smaller businesses. Just take this report on business automation by Zapier - 88% of SMBs say automation helps them compete with larger players, while 2 out of 3 workers express that automation makes them more productive so they can focus on more high-value wins.

So how can finance leaders level up with automation? Start by reviewing your current processes, especially within business functions like payroll, that can be easily automated, where legacy procedures abound. You’ll spot trends that are time and energy sucks for your staff.

2. Dig deeper with data 

Challenging times in business call for more transparency, and that’s where data can become your best friend. Global events like the pandemic shed light on the importance of mastering financial data to optimise your current processes and provide a solid foundation for long-term forecasting. 

Think about it: Numbers don’t lie. It’s difficult to predict if your head is stuck in the sand. This is where a stellar analytics stack can be gold, allowing you to dig deeper into your company’s finances to assess true performance. 

If you want to get your hands on better analytics, one of the best ways is through Software-as-a-service (SaaS). A good SaaS tool, like payroll software, not only helps automate your processes - it’s also a place where you can collect vast amounts of data you can use to underpin future decision-making.

3. Get savvy with cyber security

You only have to look to the pandemic and subsequent shift to remote work to realise just how fractious business security has become. In 2021 alone, there was a 125% increase in cyberattacks globally. That includes data breaches, identity theft and other forms of aggression like phishing. Here in the UK, roughly 39% of businesses reported that they’d suffered at least one attack in 2022. 

For CFOs, this means getting serious about security. It’s an objective you don’t have to tackle alone, as other leadership members - think CTOs, CIOs, and CHROs - will be equally vested in this. Having systems and processes that are ISO 27001:2022 certified in place should be your minimum priority, as well as investing in digital solutions that have security already baked in. 

4. Channel the cloud

A turbulent market means decisions need to be made quickly and, in some cases, in real time. You can’t achieve this if you’re waiting on old legacy systems to update or for the right people to send you piecemeal information. It’s even worse if you’re limited to one location or device and can’t pick up your work on the go.

The systems you rely on for data need to be centralised and accessible anywhere at any time. This is a key component of cloud computing, something most modern information systems like SaaS tools and software have already built-in. 

By embracing the cloud, you can tap into your company’s financial data anytime. You’ll also be using systems that are future-proofed, secure and easy to hand over to future team members when the time comes. 

5. Let go of old legacy systems

Let’s face the facts: nothing in life is permanent. The same can be said of business. The sooner you accept this timeless adage as a leader, the quicker you can focus on what’s important for today and tomorrow. 

Holding onto outdated legacy systems and processes is one of the biggest roadblocks holding businesses back. There’s a lot that can get in the way of making a change, from lack of resources or funds to invest to simply a fear of the unknown. 

Adopting new processes can be uncomfortable, even difficult, in the short term. But once you’re over the curve, the results are transformational, with employees making quick work of tasks that used to take hours, even days. 

Last but not least, don’t forget about people

We’ve talked a lot about technology. But remember that people are also an important part of the mix. By engaging your team and other key stakeholders in conversations around automation, data, security and efficiency, you’ll be helping your organisation as a whole level up with technology. 

Transformation doesn’t happen in silos; it occurs through collaboration, exchanging ideas, and aligning with a shared vision. A turbulent marketplace can also be the best time to activate your digital strategy by seizing opportunity in crisis and moving forward when competitors pull back. 

Keen to learn more about how digital transformation could benefit your business? Our payroll software guide takes you through all the factors you should consider when investing in in-house technology, like payroll software. 

Want to experience the future of payroll?
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