Revealed: Top priorities of MENA finance leaders amidst COVID-19

EY survey says 69% have prioritised overcoming finance and liquidity challenges amid COVID-19

  
Investor analyzing stock market investments with financial dashboard. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Investor analyzing stock market investments with financial dashboard. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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Ensuring continuity of business, digital transformation and optimisation of remote working processes are the three top priorities of the finance leaders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region amidst the ongoing pandemic, according to a latest survey.

While 71 percent of finance leaders said that preserving continuity of business operations is a high priority, 56 percent of MENA finance leaders were prioritising digital and automation capabilities and 83 percent said that improving remote working process was a medium or high priority, said EY MENA Financial Accounting Advisory Services in a report.

These survey results come at a time when COVID-19 continued to impact economies and finance functions were facing liquidity challenges as well as disruption in business operations, with 69 percent of those surveyed saying that overcoming finance and liquidity challenges is a high priority for their organisations.

Finance leaders have to balance immediate and short-term response to the crisis while also planning to build strength for the next phase, hence the enormity of their challenges could not be understated, said Khurram Mian, MENA Assurance Leader at EY.

“COVID-19 presents a strong business case to accelerate the digital transformation journey that will be key to equipping finance functions with added capabilities to thrive beyond the pandemic. The coming months will require monumental effort from finance leaders to balance their short and mid-term objectives, but they will also need to instill a culture increasingly focused on nonfinancial information to unlock long-term value,” he said.

The EY survey of chief financial officers and C-level executives indicated that finance operating models will be more agile and flexible in the coming months.

For many organisations, mandatory remote working was established almost overnight, and customer-facing operations were halted, pressuring finance leaders to reshape the business-as-usual environment urgently, it said, adding that one of the immediate responses for organisations was to reorganize teams, reallocate resources and increase the frequency of communications to keep employees engaged through virtual channels.

“38 percent of those surveyed say that there will be a need to make substantial changes or overhaul the finance operating model completely,” it added.

The findings also suggest that agility and flexibility will be crucial to cope with fluctuating business needs.  However, investing in transformation when capital and liquidity are limited will be a challenge. Therefore, the EY report highlighted that finance leaders will need to take advantage of flexible service delivery models that allow their functions to evolve through balanced investments: managed services, subscription-based technologies, contingent workforce, among others.

Moreover, 25 percent of finance leaders who plan to change the finance headcount are looking to do so by increasing their reliance on offshoring, outsourcing, or managed services, said the report.

The pandemic has also pushed organisations to increase their efforts and focus on environment, health and safety, and other value drivers such as trust, reputation, social impact, employee well-being, and culture, it said.

Beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic, advanced technologies, optimised policies and processes, and flexible operating models will pave the way for finance leaders to play an increasingly pivotal role in nonfinancial value creation and reporting, said the report.

(Writing by Syed Atique Naqvi; editing by Seban Scaria)

(seban.scaria@refinitiv.com)

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© ZAWYA 2020

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