Written by Leigh Schaller
Speaking to CFOClub members at the first CFOClubConvo of 2023, Hanno Coetzee, the founder of Digital CFO, shared his experience of providing CFO services to businesses, many of them SMMEs in the age of automation. Here are four takeaways from a CFO at the forefront of digitisation.
Digitisation allows smaller businesses to focus on insights
Hanno Coetzee, the founder of Digital CFO, started his career following a traditional route after graduating with a B.Com (Honours) in Financial Management.
“I started my first corporate job. It was a French company, and I got exposed to a handful of clients. It wasn’t my initial intention to become a CFO because I was still young,” however he saw an opportunity to innovate.
“I learned that there were a lot of cumbersome old systems being used. The majority of your time was spent on processing and not interpreting the data, and then work was done retrospectively. So if you see a client with financials, it’s already two, three or five months old, and you can’t make any good analytical decisions regarding that information.
“Then I decided, I want to be the CFO of those small businesses so that I can identify better systems for them to give good insights.”
It can take a pandemic to change mindsets
“The adoption from 2016 to February 2021, was quite slow, and people didn’t trust that their accounting systems were integrating with their bank,” Hanno told the webinar.
“Luckily for us, there’s been a massive shift to digital accounting systems in the past three or four years. And these people are riding the digitisation wave.”
“I think that the sharpest increase in uptake was when Covid hit because no longer could clients come to your office or give you bank statements personally. Our net widened from just Gauteng to South Africa and maybe to Europe as well,” says Hanno.
This uptake in companies adopting digital integration to bank accounts helps CFOs like Hanno to spend more time on meaningful tasks.
“In my opinion, it shifted from 80% processing and 20% interpretation to, let’s say 40% processing and 60% interpretation.”
Ignore the digital future at your peril
The effects of automation are already seen in the accounting space thanks to cloud-based accounting. Hanno referred to a client he assisted when working at his previous employer that required a team of 16. “Now, for one of our clients, we are three people doing that same function.”
ChatGPT has again brought artificial intelligence to the forefront of many CFOs’ minds. “The first response you have is, is this a threat? Is this going to take jobs away?”
However, Hanno prefers to take an optimistic view and focus on efficiency and the gains in terms of cost and value given to clients.
Digital CFOs earning potential depends on work ethic
“The earning potential for digital CFOs, the sky can be the limit in my view,” says Hanno.
“It depends on the model you’re using in your business and if it’s leverageable. The more clients you have, the more income you can generate. In my practice, I’ve got different structures where you have a CFO at the top, then a team of digital CFOs and below that, you have the training CFOs.
“I always tell the people that work for me, if you perform, I will share the profits with you.”
Hanno was speaking as part of the CFOClubConvo series open to CFOClub Africa members. To learn more about CFOClub Africa or how you can join this network of executives who share insights affecting the modern CFO, please click here.