Some 83% of SMB finance leaders surveyed believe the industry needs a new breed of CFO who encompasses chief facilitative, fairness and focus roles, according to a new study by payroll tech provider Sage.
“Finance leaders in the U.S. are redefining what it means to be a CFO,” said Judy Romano, vice president and CFO of Sage North America. “Through their purpose-driven approach to the role, their adoption of breakthrough technologies and work across a range of business units, finance leaders are taking their place as forward-facing guides for organizations.”
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SMBs, cryptocurrency and the metaverse
SMBs are also embracing the metaverse — 36% of finance officials said their company has already entered the metaverse, while 52% said they plan to increase their presence, the Sage study said.
While only 17% of global finance teams reported they are currently accepting cryptocurrency transactions, one-third said they plan to accept decentralized currencies within the next 12 months. Just over half (52%) believe these currencies will prove ‘extremely” viable as a long-term payment solution.
The biggest hurdles surrounding the adoption of cryptocurrencies were internal environmental, social and governance policies and finding the right talent to manage it, according to the study.
The research also revealed that 44% of finance leaders have used cryptocurrency as payment for personal transactions. Nearly half (48%) have personally invested in cryptocurrency, while another 49% plan to invest in it.
When it comes to the metaverse, SMBs may be further ahead in embracing the new technology than many anticipate. Over one-third (36%) of finance teams said their company has already entered the metaverse, while 52% say they plan to increase their presence over the coming year. Over half (54%) of respondents are planning learning programs in the metaverse, and 42% are purchasing virtual real estate via NFTs.
“The metaverse is a great example of the convergence of our digital and physical lives – integrating human touchpoints through digital means to knock down barriers,’’ said Aaron Harris, CTO at Sage. “And while it’s still early days for most, the metaverse is normalizing some emerging technologies like cryptocurrencies for SMBs which, in turn, removes friction and delivers insights.”
But Harris noted that despite the appetite for new technologies and business models, the availability of skills remains an industry-wide issue that needs to be resolved. Offering more than the traditional finance role may help the finance profession appeal to a wider demographic.
Finance SMBs are bullish on new technologies
SMBs are accessing new capabilities all the time, supported by artificial intelligence, machine learning and the blockchain, to better manage their finances and run their businesses more effectively, Sage said.
Finance leaders in the U.S. were the most bullish: Almost half (46%) of U.S. SMBs have already entered the metaverse, compared with only 30% of U.K. and 32% of Canadian businesses. As a result, 32% of finance teams are now looking for candidates with coding, developer and AI experience.
U.S. finance teams were also among the most likely to already be accepting cryptocurrency transactions, with 21% already accepting these payments. The U.S. trails only Australia, where 29% of businesses already accept decentralized payments, according to the report.
In terms of the long-term viability of cryptocurrency as a payment source for SMBs, 60% of U.S. finance teams believe it to be extremely viable. This compares with 44% of U.K. responders and 49% of Canadian finance executives.
Purpose and people ahead of profit
Three-quarters of financial decision-makers put purpose over profits, according to the report.
Finance teams are now prioritizing technology skills over financial experience in recruitment, and it is impacting the hunt for new skills, the Sage report said. One-third (32%) of finance teams said they are now looking for candidates with either coding, developer or AI algorithmic building experience.
Candidates with strong AI experience were even more appealing than strong finance candidates willing to train and develop AI skills — 38% compared to 34%, respectively. However, both are more attractive candidates than professionals without any technical skillset at all, the report said.
Respondent organizations are also prioritizing people and empathy in business decisions. Three-quarters of financial decision-makers are encouraged by their organization to prioritize people (77%), account for empathy and understanding when making business decisions (75%) and put purpose over profits (74%).
Sage said the study is based on 1,900 responses from finance leaders in the healthcare, nonprofit, financial services, professional services, hospitality, tech and retail industries at organizations with less than 1000 employees and with annual revenue of at least $50 million for the U.S., U.K., Australia and South Africa and at least $5 million for Canada.