The Future of the CFO: From Number Cruncher to Value Driver

Visual Capitalist  |

iStockphoto.com, William_Potter


In today’s fast-paced business landscape, a company’s chief financial officer (CFO) is more integral to operations than ever. In fact, about 41% of CFOs spend the majority of their time on non-finance related activities, fueling data-driven decisions across the business.

The only problem? Leaders outside of finance still see CFOs contributing the most value in traditional finance areas, such as accounting and controlling.

Today’s infographic from Raconteur explores the expanding scope of CFO responsibilities, as well as the perception gap between CFOs and non-finance leaders when it comes to the former’s primary value-driving activities.

The CFO’s Expanding Role

Traditionally, the CFO was focused on financial reporting and issues such as compliance, accounts, and taxation. However, the scope of a CFO’s duties has increased dramatically in recent years. Thanks to technological advances, CFOs are now able to access massive amounts of data on their organization’s operational and financial performance.

“This puts the finance function at the heart or, arguably, the mind of the business from the outset, with many now being crowned as the ‘stewards’ of the long-term enterprise vision.”

—Robin Bryson, Interim CFO at Impero Software

Armed with data, CFOs can help predict headwinds, forecast performance, and make informed decisions across departments. In a global survey, McKinsey asked finance leaders about the breadth of their responsibilities. Of the CFOs who said they spend they a majority of their time on non-finance tasks, here’s where their attention is focused:

Activity % of CFOs Focused on Activity
Strategic leadership 46%
Organizational transformation 45%
Performance management 35%
Capital allocation 24%
Big data and analytics 20%
Finance capabilities 18%
Technology trends 5%
Other (e.g. risk management) 5%

However, other business leaders remain in the dark about this broader role.

Differing Views

While the CFO’s job description has evolved considerably, outside perceptions of it have not. In a survey of both CFOs and non-finance leaders, there is a clear difference of opinion with regards to where financial leaders create the most value:

Areas in which CFOs have created the most financial value % of CFOs who agree % of others who agree
Performance management 39% 19%
Strategic leadership 39% 25%
Traditional finance roles 33% 47%
Organizational transformation 33% 21%
Finance capabilities 30% 15%
Speciality finance roles 30% 27%
Cost and productivity management 26% 42%
Support for digital capabilities and advanced analytics 15% 10%
Mergers and acquisitions (including post-merger integration) 14% 23%
Capital allocation 10% 22%
Pricing of products and/or services 10% 8%
Management of activist investors 3% 3%

CFOs see their largest contributions in the areas of performance management and strategic leadership, while others still consider the CFO’s value to be derived primarily from traditional finance and cost/productivity management.

How can CFOs demonstrate their increased responsibility to leaders outside of the finance realm?

Closing the Gap

According to McKinsey, CFOs can demonstrate their expanded role in three main ways:

1. Actively head up transformations.

While CFOs are already playing a role in transformations, non-finance leaders are less likely to perceive them as making strategic contributions. CFOs also tend to initiate the most transformations in the finance function alone.

To change perceptions, CFOs can lead enterprise-wide transformations, and communicate their strategic value through activities like high-level goal setting.

2. Lead the charge towards digitization and automation.

Few organizations have initiated the shift in a substantial way, with only ⅓ of finance respondents saying their companies digitized or automated more than 25% of their work in the last year.

However, the payoff is well worth the effort. Among those that have undertaken this level of change, 70% reported modest to substantial returns on investment.

3. Develop talent and capabilities across the organization.

CFOs have begun increasing their value through talent-building, but there is still a significant amount of room for further growth.

For example, CFOs can build capabilities during transformations, teach financial topics to non-finance leaders, and develop top talent across the organization.

Through these various strategies, CFOs can foster collaboration and understanding between departments—and succeed in their broader roles.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer.

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