Date posted: 01/07/2022

Senior public sector finance professionals look ahead with lessons learned from the pandemic

Responsiveness, adaptability and flexibility are essential alongside embracing new skills.

The realities of senior public sector finance leaders’ management of the COVID-19 pandemic are shared in a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CA ANZ (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand).

Published in Leading recovery: the evolving role of senior finance leadership in the public sector, attendees at various global roundtables identified three major areas where the public sector faces difficulties in the years ahead: recruiting and retaining finance professionals, preparing for reducing budgets for public services and adapting to wider societal changes.

Looking back, they reveal how professional accountants led with agility to enable their organisations to support governments’ aims of saving lives and protecting livelihoods. Increased spending, streamlined decision-making processes and better integration of the finance function epitomised the work of senior finance leaders and their teams during this time.

Building on the experience of the pandemic, ACCA and CA ANZ say there are six key lessons for public sector finance leaders to focus on. They need to transform systems to build organisational resilience and make better use of data. They must rethink leadership approaches, to empower staff and provide visible leadership. And they need to ensure their organisations adapt to new ways of working to focus on purpose, then place and break down barriers.

ACCA and CA ANZ have also identified an ‘ABCD’ of skills which public sector finance leaders of the future will need to develop: adaptability, business sense, communication, and determination.

Helen Brand says: ‘It’s very heartening to read the recollections of these public sector finance leaders who remained so dedicated to their organisations, their customers and clients during the pandemic’s turbulence. They are well prepared for the future, but they are also not complacent and see the clear need to learn continuously.’

Ainslie van Onselen, Chief Executive of CA ANZ adds: ‘Our report’s ABCD framework can help aspiring finance leaders in the public sector to ensure they broaden their horizons, from the traditional tasks of a finance professional to a wider organisational perspective. This breadth and depth helped leaders during the pandemic and prepares for future resilience too.’

At the roundtables, members of ACCA and CA ANZ also commented on the value of their professional bodies to help them understand the ‘basics’ and develop their knowledge in their careers through continuing professional development (CPD).

Helen and Ainslie jointly conclude: ‘Professional accountants have a wider set of skills beyond technical knowledge, and bring strong strategic advice to support the organisations they serve; these skills can be developed and refined through experience and reflection.

‘Given the immense test of the pandemic, it’s wonderful to hear agreement from finance leaders and their teams that they were able to demonstrate their worth to the organisations and public they ultimately serve. We agree with this too.’

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