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Survey: COVID-19 Increasing CFO Duties in Operations, Strategy

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) have taken on more operational and strategic planning duties as their organizations try to manage through the economic downturn, according to a recent survey by Korn Ferry.

Almost half, or 45 percent, of the 276 CFOs surveyed from December 2019 to February 2020 said the two capabilities most critical to their future are their operations (such as reporting and analytics), and their role in helping make the C-suite’s strategy a reality.

CFOs' two biggest concerns are organizational alignment (23 percent), and the need to align finance with overall business strategy (13 percent).

"CFOs need to be more generalists. They need to go beyond their traditional sandbox. Just reporting numbers doesn’t add value," said Barry Toren, Korn Ferry’s financial officer practice leader for North America.

To prepare for their added responsibilities, Toren urges CFOs to literally walk the halls, post-sheltering in place, and ask operational people what they want from finance they are not getting.

"Operations people don't want to be told what to do; they want support," Toren said, and CFOs need to see units of their companies as customers.

The need for enhanced coordination shows that 34 percent of CFOs surveyed said greater alignment on strategic initiatives would improve their relationships with the CEO and strengthen operational strategy. More than a quarter said they are in need of greater communication and face time with the CEO.

The immediate COVID-19 operational and strategic concerns the surveyed CFOs reported are they are facing include cash preservation, weighing the needs and advantages of furloughs versus layoffs and presenting more frequent and more understandable messages to a variety of stakeholders.

Long-term objectives CFOs said they must contend with range from reassessing investments, budgeting, and forecasting to what COVID-19 responses need to be part of their firms' lasting strategic plans.

CFOs said that they expect specialized, quantitative finance skills, like capital budgeting and allocation, financial governance, accounting services, and taxation, to become only the foundation for CFOs to be effective.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led companies looking for CFOs to place a greater emphasis on personality and leadership abilities and less on specific finance experience, Toren said.

The expanded responsibilities of CFOs will almost certainly continue to be part of the core of their work long after the pandemic passes.

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