What’s new about normal? 3 vulnerabilities for accounting and finance professionals today
New threat vectors. Emerging, yet confusing, collaborative tech. Massive, global social unrest. What is real and unreal about the times we're living through may have become hard to differentiate for many of us, so I thought I'd share some accounting and finance tips to help you pull through.
For reference, I'll be outlining actionable next steps for accounting and finance pros in each of the following areas — all of which have changed under our “new normal”:
- Diversity and inclusion (D&I)
- New versus legacy tech
Ready? Read on for three areas where many accounting firms are struggling and vulnerable today — plus, you'll learn easy tactics you can deploy to improve your odds of success tomorrow, no matter where our "new normal" takes us.
Think of this as a pure numbers game: With massive remote work capabilities enabled at companies across the board, employees are spending more time with digital touch points than ever before. And more time spent online creates a greater likelihood that malicious actors will find the right opportunities or vulnerabilities to exploit. It's the law of averages at work.
You can see a lot of this playing out right now — and it's not looking good. A quick roundup, simply for the uninitiated:
- Companies are reporting as much as five-fold increases in the volume of cyber attacks since the onset of COVID-19. (And federal officials have recently issued warnings about the risks that result.)
- Along with new ways of working, new threats are emerging. For example, one study evaluated 1,700 Zoom-related domains registered in recent weeks, for example, and deemed at least 4 percent of them "suspicious" or "malicious." That number might seem small at first — until you consider the potential harm.
- Finally, take a look at the "Clean Network" plan that was just announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to get a sense of how incredibly widespread cybersecurity threats have become.
So if your remote teams are as heavily reliant on video conferencing and other digital tools as the rest of us, threats like the above obviously need to be on the radar.
Finally, while the bottom line on cybersecurity has been documented elsewhere in Accounting Today, it's clear that cyber attacks are a special nuisance for tax preparers, auditors and other finance professionals — people who often have access to sensitive financial information that their clients would prefer to keep private. That's one of several reasons why having appropriate infrastructure in place to counter these malicious actors is rapidly becoming table stakes for accountants and financial professionals right now.
At the end of the day, the risks significantly outweigh the costs of that investment.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I)
Recent conversations — to say nothing of a massive protest movement that many believe to be the largest in our nation's history— have brought the spotlight back on D&I. And that in turn is shedding new light on just how far most companies still have to go. Given that only four out of America's 500 largest companies have Black chief executives, it’s clear that "conversation" alone doesn't cut it for most companies today. They must take action, instead.
However your company chooses to tackle D&I strategies in accounting, now is absolutely the moment to move the needle. And I, for one, have seen the tremendous value that strategic partners can bring to the table when you're serious about doing so.
While you're at it, why not make sure messaging around conscious inclusion during COVID-19 is a part of the narrative as well? Now, more than ever, we're all in this together. The virus doesn't distinguish between creed, color, gender, sexual orientation or nationality, and neither should you.
New versus legacy tech
No one knows when the global pandemic will truly be behind us, but we do know this: There has been a huge learning curve on the technologies that are helping all of us continue to generate value and complete our work remotely. But is all of it, strictly speaking,necessary?
In reality, of course, the answer is "no." Some of it we may keep, but a lot of it we don't love. For example, there has been a marked proliferation of new communication apps, but do you have any idea how to measure your team's digital proficiency? How about their productivity — this one should be easy — on a day-by-day basis?
Well, if not, you aren't alone. In fact, Gartner’s recent webinar about COVID-19 recovery efforts in the Asia-Pacific region showed “manager concerns about productivity or engagement” outstripping all other human capital concerns for HR leaders. All told, productivity- and engagement-related issues represented 76 percent of all issues escalated to HR teams in the region.
The takeaway? Don't download (and then delete) ever again. Now is the time to prioritize productivity and engagement management tools that will bring you closer to colleagues — and the rest of your workforce, too.
Ready to get started?
No doubt about it, COVID-19 has been a stressful time — in fact, it was called the most stressful time of their lives by nearly 70 percent of respondents to this survey. Accounting leaders should try to help alleviate the friction.
One simple tip in that direction: Try to channel your energies toward business improvements, starting with the areas I've outlined above. Trust me, just from firsthand experience, I know how much that can help. But you also need to take it one step at a time.
By revamping your workplace right now, you'll be powerfully advantaged, and have a competitive edge, whenever we get to the back side of this global pandemic. Plus, you'll be far better positioned to attract innovative thinkers and leaders to your workplace going forward.