" "We have to put the human back in the centre of the game."

By Olivia Wing, Customer Success Manager, GENCFO

Marie-Anne Effa Nguini

Head of Finance, Accounting Standards

Air France-KLM

In November 2022, GENCFO spoke with Marie-Anne Effa Nguini, Head of Finance, Accounting Standards, at Air France-KLM.

“The airline industry is one of the most vulnerable industries to any kind of change,” she says,

“Weather changes or an increase in oil prices, for instance can have a significant impact on an airline's results and performance,” she says - and there have been a lot of changes in recent times.

How the current landscape has affected Air France-KLM

The last two-and-a bit years, with the pandemic and rising inflation, have been nothing if not challenging. 

“Air France-KLM took the appropriate measures at that time to survive,” says Marie-Anne. 

“The focus was on the core business which, during the pandemic, was about repatriating passengers.” 

“Being agile and able to transform were Air France-KLM main assets in overcoming this difficult period and returning to positive results, close to those of 2019.”

Marie-Anne’s transformation leadership

The Air France-KLM group has always prioritised transformation. Within the finance function, projects of varying scopes have been completed. 

Marie-Anne has had the honour of overseeing the implementation of three of these projects: harmonisation of accounting processes, financial statements’ conversion into electronic to comply with the regulator’s requirements and finance master data management automation.

The latest transformation drive, which took place between 2017 and 2021, involved migrating huge rafts of data from Excel spreadsheets to highly efficient and automated IT software. 

It did inevitably meet with delays during the pandemic when non-core business operations had to be put temporarily on the backburner, but the hard work had mostly been done and by 2021, the project was complete.

“The project’s aim was to implement an IT tool developed by SAP to streamline the management of finance master data."

"It was a common tool for use by multiple entities, all with different needs. It allows us to be more confident in the reliability of financial reporting,” Marie-Anne explains. 

The change in accounting’s role

“Accounting processes are no longer limited to what was traditionally called ‘recurring bookkeeping tasks’”, she says.

“Accounting jobs are much more project-driven with change management aspects – it’s a lot more strategic.” 

“There are automated controls which avoid mistakes and human error and everything is automated and streamlined. We no longer have to rely on Excel and manual data entry.”

And as Marie-Anne adds, the shift to automation has meant the Group is now much more ‘agile and responsive’.

Maintaining the balance between automation and humans

Yet it would be easy to forget the human element in all this - and many companies have done so in their quest for improved efficiency. Marie-Anne however, believes there needs to be balance.

“In one sense, accounting functions have to make technological, digital shifts to be able to stay in the game: to produce financial reporting quicker and more efficiently and accurately, while making sure it aligns to the latest accounting requirements and regulations.” 

“But at the same time, we have to put the human back in the centre of the game,” she insists. 

“Nowadays, we tend to advocate for processes such as automation, digitisation and big data, but what place do we keep for all those people who used to perform a task but that task is now automated?”

From a succession planning and talent retention perspective, it’s a pertinent question. After all, once automation has removed the need for manual transactions and entry, what’s next for the financial professional of the future? And how will they gain their skills?

“Finance is changing,” says Marie-Anne. “You need to focus on the human aspect. There will definitely be a need in the near future to train new types of finance professionals, such as finance data analysts and data scientists to meet the needs of the finance profession.”

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Olivia Wing, Customer Success Manager, GENCFO

Olivia is an author at GENCFO as well as being the Community Success Manager. Read her articles on everything from events, agility, hot topics in finance and interviews with key finance and accounting industry figures.

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