Especially within the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, the role of the chief financial officer (CFO) has become almost unrecognizable within the last decade. CFOs now have much more responsibility and a wider range 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). Today, the CFO is a vital strategic asset, with a major role in the success or failure of the organization.
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 digitalization. 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 their shoulders. The responsibility is only compounded by economic uncertainty, tightening regulations and scrutiny from investors.
Ultimately, there are only so many hours in the day, even for multi-tasking CFOs. It is imperative that CFOs prioritize 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.
The years since the 2008 financial crisis have pushed many CFOs to prove themselves again, and that has not been an easy road. The changing forces that have defined markets throughout this last decade will not stop just because of future uncertainty. If anything, the months and years ahead will become only more challenging and uncertain.
In this increasingly demanding world, a CFO has to be good with far 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 business scenarios. Nearly half of businesses have changed their models to become more agile and profitable, 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 their unique position at the helm of the organization. CFOs are 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 CEOs and business owners 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.
One of the greatest roadblocks facing the CFO is outdated technology, incapable of rising to the tasks asked of it. Complex IT systems and unconnected databases built up over many years can include incompatible elements, or they have been patched together rather than streamlined. Convoluted and highly customized, their integration with new technology services can be difficult, if not impossible, 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. It will also help to make their organizations’ data more accessible and manageable.
This allows CFOs to free up time for the newer, 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 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 identify and capitalize on opportunities, the CFO needs a strong understanding of performance across each department, of profit, cost, and cash flow 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.
Organizations are increasingly relying on their CFOs 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.
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