4 ways CFOs can thrive in times of transition
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4 ways CFOs can thrive in times of transition

2 years ago · 3 min read

With the rapid evolution of technology and its growing importance to the finance field, CFOs are in a prime position to lead transformational change within their companies.

But even if many CFOs are willing to take on broader roles and embrace new technologies, the transition will not be without its challenges.

Earlier this year, we spoke with Sandy Cockrell, CPA, managing partner for Deloitte’s CFO program, to discuss how CFOs can stay up to speed and thrive during this dramatic shift. Here are four takeaways from the discussion with Cockrell:

Embrace the digital revolution. The digital revolution is already here, so CFOs have no choice but to embrace it. As Cockrell pointed out, CFOs have to be able to sit at the table with the CTO and CEO and understand how new digital assets and technology are meant to work.

The CFO, Cockrell explained, often acts as the translator, whose responsibility it is to justify what is being spent and explain things in a way that everyone in the room can comprehend.

Because of the way CFOs understand the financial aspects of new technology, he said, they should be working with CTOs to move a digital agenda forward.

A 2018 Accenture study called From Bottom Line to Front Line reinforces that. The study found that 77% of CFOs are heading up efforts to improve efficiency through adoption of digital technology, and 77% are exploring how disruptive new technologies could benefit the organization and the business ecosystem — all of which highlights the importance of technological fluency for CFOs going forward.

Implement automation to pursue higher-level tasks. Automation is a hot topic right now across all industries, and finance is no exception. There are certainly downsides to automation, but one clear upside is that it can free up time for bigger, forward-thinking tasks, according to Deloitte’s research.

“Almost two-thirds of the CFOs we surveyed have said that more than half of their finance workforce will really be focused on analysis, prediction, and decision support, as opposed to traditional recordkeeping and financial reporting,” Cockrell said, describing Deloitte’s research. “That’s a huge shift.”

That means successful CFOs of the future are going to use that time to leverage analytics and gain more forward-thinking insights, rather than spending time scanning historical data.

Broaden your recruiting pool. Businesswide digital transformation is going to require new pedigrees, new skills, and new views and attitudes about the way to get things done, according to Cockrell.

He pointed out that the people who have the skills to fully employ predictive analytics and similar tools are likely going to be data scientists and mathematicians, which means CFOs are going to have to be willing and able to work with people from those backgrounds.

“Finance organizations are really waking up to the fact that recruiting, especially for planning, analysis, and those kinds of things, doesn’t always have to come from the business,” he said.

Absorb new knowledge and skill sets to keep pace with the changes. Deloitte lays out a framework for what it believes to be the main elements of the CFO role. Occupying what Deloitte calls the southern hemisphere of the framework is operating a finance function and being a steward of financial truth. In the northern hemisphere is the ability to think strategically and being the catalyst of change in an organization. According to Cockrell, CFOs are being expected to spend more and more time on northern hemisphere tasks.

“As a consequence, we’re really seeing the pedigree change in who’s becoming a CFO,” he said. “They really are expected to be able to play that strategist/catalyst role, so many times they’re not coming up through traditional finance; they’re coming up through other areas of the business.”

He speculates that one of the skills that boards and CEOs are really going to start asking about when considering a new CFO is their digital and technological knowledge. With that in mind, CFOs, or anyone who aspires to the role, would be wise to absorb as much digital knowledge as possible and even consider developing financial technology skills.

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