For a moment earlier this year, corporate finance leaders began to take a retrospective look at how they overcame the many challenges involved in maintaining operations through a global pandemic. The economy appeared to be on a steady path toward opening back up, and chief financial officers viewed this as an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned as they continued their digitization efforts.
Today, however, more CFOs are acknowledging that the market is not yet in the clear from the health crisis. Rather, the future may be more uncertain than ever. While the past 18 months or so have delivered valuable and important insights, now is not the time for firms to let their guard down.
In PYMNTS’ latest installment of “A Day in the Life of a Digital-First CFO,” Synchrony CFO Brian Wenzel said that key lessons from remote working requirements and market fluctuations cannot be forgotten — including one of the most important: the need to remain agile.
It’s a focus that continues to shape Synchrony’s digitization initiatives and is one that other CFOs should consider along their own modernization journey, he said.
Bring In The Bots
Like so many other companies, Synchrony’s digitization efforts have largely centered on the idea of automation. Efforts to improve accuracy and drive better outcomes require investments in automated tools like bots, a technology that has been particularly impactful in Synchrony’s back office.
When first adjusting to work-from-home requirements, the safety of employees was first and foremost, Wenzel said. Then, it was time to focus on efficiency.
“That environment allowed us to look at ways in which we connected with each other, and in which we could use more forms of [artificial intelligence (AI)] bots, for instance, to pull aggregated data out of systems,” noted Wenzel.
But this focus on automation forced Wenzel to take on another role within the enterprise: head of change management. The addition of technology presented additional opportunities for employees.
Wenzel highlighted the opportunity for team members to elevate their positions.
“We want to be able to say, ‘[What are the opportunities for employees and how do we provide training, if necessary, for these additional roles and responsibilities],’” he said. “[For example,] we’ve taken some of our accounting team and gotten them into [Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)] training. We got them into Seismic training.”
An Agile Enterprise
By investing not only in automation technology, but also in the human talent that exists alongside it, the enterprise can better position itself to pursue broader operational goals.
For Wenzel, that goal often carries the theme of agility. It was a requirement at the onset of the pandemic, it remains critical today amid so much uncertainty, and it will certainly remain a common trait among the organizations years down the line that carry lessons from today into the future.
This pursuit of a more agile operation has translated into a variety of initiatives for Synchrony, including investments in integrations with third parties and plugins within the firm’s own applications, as well as scenario planning and forecasting. But Wenzel acknowledged that “agility” can translate into a whole host of initiatives within other enterprises.
“If you took a poll and asked people to define it, you get 100 different answers,” he said. “I think of agility as a much broader thing. How do you bring people together quickly and make decisions quickly, so you don’t [have] ‘analysis paralysis?’”
Often, said Wenzel, CFOs are forced to make important decisions on the fly with incomplete data. Having as much information as possible is key to supporting agile decision-making, making data strategy another vital component of a more agile organization.
As Wenzel noted, prioritizing a robust, digital-first infrastructure has proven the value of technology when it comes to making use of the robust data from the company’s tens of millions of account holders, as well as from partners and its own internal workflows.
The CFO As A Partner
The laundry list for today’s CFO is certainly long, filled with internal projects that must keep in mind broad-level objectives. Finance leaders have their plates full, focusing on change management, data automation, technology investments and more. It’s a never-ending journey.
Wenzel recognized that the modernization journey really is never-ending — and indeed, Synchrony continues to work in areas such as forecasting and cash settlement. As he continues to bring lessons learned from the earlier days of the pandemic into the future, he emphasized the importance of the CFO operating as a partner within the enterprise to help others contribute to the organization’s goals, too.
From investment planning to source-to-pay, collaborating with professionals throughout the office is imperative.
“I want to understand where your vision is and how we can help you shape that vision, and then how I can help you accomplish that vision,” said Wenzel.