Corporate accountants say the global pandemic has caused them to shift work priorities and forgo pay or bonuses – sometimes both – as they wonder how relevant their existing skills will be in a post-COVID world.

These are among the findings of a five country survey of finance professionals conducted by the Institute of Management Accounting (IMA). The organization set out to learn how the pandemic has affected the business finance function, surveying 1,481 management accounting professionals who were almost evenly divided among China, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States.

The report — The Impact of Covid-19 on the Finance Function — found differences across the globe in staff cuts and pay reductions, but similarities in where the finance function has shifted its focus.

By large margins respondents reported reductions in their organization’s revenue, with those working at companies with more than $10 billion reporting the deepest decline. Tourism and hospitality was the most seriously impacted, while the percentage of those in accounting who said revenue was down somewhat or considerably was the smallest.

While accountants in all countries and all industries reported staffing cuts and pay reductions, US companies were the least likely to have laid off workers or cut the pay of their finance professionals.

On the other hand, the survey found a great deal of consistency across industries regarding the shifting priorities of the finance department.

The largest increase in emphasis was in risk management with 44% of finance professionals reporting spending more or much more time in this area. This was followed closely by those who say they are spending more time in cash forecasting/management.

The biggest decrease was in the time finance previously spent on business partnering and decision support.

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More personally, a quarter of finance professionals expressed concern about the relevance of their skills in a post-COVID world — 12% believe their skills will not be relevant, and another 10% are unsure.

US finance professionals were in the minority here. Just over 5% were unsure or believe their skills will not be relevant. US professionals were also the least likely among those in the other countries to express an interest in upskilling and were also the least likely to have improved their job skills during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting business with a challenge not seen in recent times,” writes the report’s author, Dr. Raef Lawson, professor-in-residence and vice president of research and policy at IMA. “The impact has been global, affecting every country and organizations of all sizes.”

Soon, he says, the business environment will change again, so “companies need to consider how they will compete in the ‘new normal.’

“One thing is clear,” he concludes, “The field of finance is changing faster than ever, and finance professionals must work to enhance their skills in order to maintain and advance their careers.”

Photo by Carlos Muza