A new breed of finance frontrunners face the future: SMBs embrace the metaverse and cryptocurrency, Sage finds

By rotide
Created 13/04/2022 - 06:51
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A new study by Sage, the leader in accounting, financial, HR and payroll technology for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), has found that over four-fifths (83%) of finance leaders believe the industry needs a new breed of CFO.

"The Redefined CFO" study investigates how finance leaders today take a more holistic approach with a reliance on data to engage with the wider strategic priorities of organizations. Stepping out from the shadow of the CEO, the CFO has become a hub of business information - diversifying their expertise, recruiting the right talent, and ensuring they implement emerging technologies and purpose-driven programs to remove friction and deliver insights. The Chief Future, Facilitative, and Fairness Officers represent this new breed of CFO.  

Jonathan Howell, Chief Financial Officer at Sage, said: 

Today's finance leaders are future-focused strategists and advisors capable of providing guidance and commercial insights where their businesses need them most. While getting the numbers right will always remain critical, CFOs are now a real blend of traits using real-time analysis, predictive modelling and forecasting to shape the future as well as reporting on what's gone before. 

This requires greater flexibility. CFOs must now balance more traditional finance skillsets with an appreciation for emerging technology and an awareness of how to balance purpose and profit to deliver long-term, sustainable value. 

Cryptocurrency and the metaverse embraced by SMBs 

The research found that finance officers within SMBs are increasingly embracing cryptocurrencies and the metaverse as digital payments technology forces an evolution.  

While only 17% of global finance teams reported currently accepting cryptocurrency transactions, one-third (33%) 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 adoption of cryptocurrencies were internal ESG policies (22%) and finding the right talent to manage it (22%).  

The research revealed that over two-fifths (44%) of finance leaders have used cryptocurrency as payment for personal transactions, whilst nearly half (48%) have personally invested in cryptocurrency. Another half (49%) plan to invest in it.  

When it came to the metaverse, SMBs may be further ahead in embracing the new technology than many anticipate. Over one-third (36%) of finance teams say their company has already entered the metaverse, while half (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 almost half (42%) are purchasing virtual real estate (via NFTs).  

Global Breakdown 

SMBs are accessing new capabilities all the time, supported by AI, machine learning and blockchain, to better manage their finances, and run their businesses more effectively. 

Finance leaders in the US were the most bullish: almost half (46%) of US SMBs have already entered the metaverse, compared with only 30% of UK and 32% of Canadian businesses.  

US finance teams were amongst the most likely to already be accepting crypto currency transactions, with a fifth (21%) already accepting these payments. The US trails only Australia - where 29% of businesses already accept decentralized payments. These figures were substantially higher than those seen in the UK (13%) and Canada (12%) which are lagging behind.  

In terms of the long-term viability of cryptocurrency as a SMB payment source, 60% of US finance teams believe it to be extremely viable. This compares with 44% of UK and half (49%) of Canadian finance executives. 

Aaron Harris, Chief Technology Officer, at Sage said: 

"I'm passionate about elevating the work of humans. By this, I mean letting the machines take the admin burden, spot anomalies, and automate repetitive tasks - freeing up humans to focus on what they do best. 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. 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.  

"Yet despite the appetite for new technologies and business models, the availability of skills remains an industry-wide issue that, as a community, we need to solve. Offering more than the traditional finance roles, I hope this will help our profession appeal to an increasingly wider demographic." 

Purpose and people ahead of profit 

Finance teams are now prioritizing technology skills over financial experience in recruitment, and it's impacting the hunt for new skills. One-third (32%) of finance teams say they are now looking for candidates with either coding, developer, or AI algorithmic building experience. In fact, candidates with a strong AI pedigree 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. 

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%). 

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