The role of the chief financial officer (CFO) has become almost unrecognisable within the last decade. CFOs now have more responsibility and a wider remit for ensuring the success of their companies. The CFO has gone from being the person primarily responsible for his or her company’s finances to the right hand of the chief executive officer (CEO). The CFO today is a vital strategic asset, with a major role in the success or failure of the organisation.
According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, five functions other than finance now report to most CFOs: risk, regulatory compliance, M&A (mergers and acquisitions), IT (information technology) and digitalisation. Leading all of these distinct yet interconnected areas doesn’t just make the CFO one of the busiest members of the C-suite, it puts a lot of responsibility on his or her shoulders. This is only compounded by economic uncertainty, tightening regulations and scrutiny from investors.
Ultimately, there are only so many hours in the day, even for CFOs. It is imperative that they prioritise and focus on the most important things and have the right people and tools at their disposal to make it all work. Ultimately, a CFO needs to be a true strategic leader, not just the head of the finance department.
At the heart of organisational data
The years since the 2008 financial crisis have pushed many CFOs to prove themselves again, and that has not been easy. The disruptive forces that have defined markets throughout this decade will not stop just because of future uncertainty. If anything, the road ahead will become only more challenging and uncertain.
In this new, more demanding world, a CFO has to be good with more than just numbers. Today, the role means getting and staying ahead of uncertainty, equipping yourself with the power to future-gaze—being able to look ahead and use foresight to plan for future scenarios. Nearly half of businesses have changed their models to become more agile, and the CFO is expected to be the driving force behind that.
This new role and these added responsibilities have not been given to the CFO by chance or accident—but it is thanks to his or her unique position at the helm of the organisation. Heads of financeare among a rare few with access to data pertaining to all parts of the business. This becomes especially important as regulations and compliance laws become stricter, resulting in different business units, even within one company, putting access to their own individual data sets on lock-down. This limits the number of people who have true oversight across all data sets and processes.
It is for this specific reason that we need to empower CFOs to do all they can to make the best use of all business information—firstly, by having platforms from which they can easily access and understand it, and secondly, by making sure they have enough time in their days to make full use of it.
A full-time job
One of the greatest roadblocks facing the CFO is outdated technology, incapable of rising to the tasks asked of it. Complex IT systems built up over many years can include incompatible elements, or they have been patched together rather than streamlined. Convoluted and highly customised, their integration with new technology services can be difficult to achieve.
To overcome this challenge, the finance function must transition to a unified cloud infrastructure that combines the options and capabilities of on-premises, private and public cloud technology across the entire business.Doing so will give CFOs greater levels of flexibility and agility, enabling them to deliver on the increased expectations of their businesses. Crucially, however, it will also help to make their organisations’ data more accessible and manageable.
With a more integrated and consolidated data infrastructure, the CFO can then turn to enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions with embedded artificial intelligence (AI) for help. ERP solutions have the ability to both free up and maximise CFOs’ time, helping them to make the best use of the working hours available to them.
This is especially helpful as many CFOs find themselves still dedicating far too much time to tasks that just keep the finance function up and running. Requisitions, purchase orders and vendor invoicing are, of course, vital functions in any business, but they are repetitive, routine duties that do not make good use of the talents and capabilities of a CFO. Instead, they should be handled by cloud-based ERP solutions that use automation that has intelligent financial-management capabilities.
This, in turn, will not only free CFOs up from doing or worrying about these tasks, but it will also make the end results more reliable by reducing the chance of human error. Recent Accenture research shows that finance staff members spend an average of 60 to 70 percent of their time on low-value, low-complexity tasks, such as processing transactions, accounting, controlling, compliance and reporting; automation can really transform the day-to-day activities of the CFO.
The CFO unchained
Once liberated from the low-value tasks that made up so much of their workdays, CFOs can focus on creating new value for their businesses. Their time can instead be spent on the new, more strategic parts of their jobs. They will be able to find the insights that empower the guidance that they give their CEOs, helping them drive their businesses forward.
This couldn’t come at a better time, as CEOs and lines of business (LOBs) are increasingly leaning on CFOs to help them achieve their goals. In this respect, one of the major new expectations of the CFO is to provide advice on strategic investments that will deliver growth for the company.
To spot and capitalise on opportunities, the CFO needs a strong understanding of performance across each department, of profit and cost considerations, and of the company’s future needs and resourcing. With the needed time regained, the CFO and his or her team have more capacity to combine and interpret data on all of these factors quickly and accurately.
Unbound CFOs can also play more important roles at the junctions of LOB strategies. They have the freedom to encourage greater integration and alignment between departments. Using the latest financial and analytics technologies to gain a view of each department’s performance, the CFO can become a strategic data asset. This will put him or her in an ideal position to ensure LOB strategies are in sync with the organisation’s larger ambitions.
Organisations increasingly rely on their leaders to focus on the things that really matter. Now more than ever, they need leaders who are able to look at the bigger picture, plan for the future and perfect the business strategy. It is counterproductive if the C-suite, and the CFO specifically, is bogged down with critical but easily transferable tasks.
Imagine a world in which CFOs can juggle all of these new responsibilities with ease, ensuring efficiency and maintaining the financial arms of their businesses, all while dedicating the majority of their expertise to moving their companies forward. This might sound too good to be true, but we have the technology to do it today. By equipping CFOs and their teams with cloud-based ERP applications that empower them through automation, manual tasks can be executed quickly and easily while also eliminating time-consuming and costly upgrades.