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The evolving role of the CFO

The Chief “Future” Officer

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth[1]” – this is one of the infamous sporting quotes of the 21st Century alluding to the dangers of focusing too much on the future.

However, with the constant level of change and disruptive nature of technology impacting businesses, particularly finance functions, is it appropriate to merely “hope for the best” when it comes to your business’s finances and your finance function?

This is where the new incarnation of the traditional Chief Financial Officer (CFO) comes in – Chief “Future” Officer – a role set against contemporary and future focused expectations and demands. 

The traditional CFO role predominately focuses inward on the finance function and past performances, with elements of input provided across the wider business and in the public domain.

However, economical, commercial and business model changes requires CFOs to be more commercial and to communicate the past, present and future numbers story of each business in a compelling manner.

With the continuous pace of technological change, increasing volume and access to information and wide array of skills available, the modern day CFO role also has to include:

  • Serving as a coach and mentor to finance team members
  • Providing oversight and input as a business change agent
  • Being a leader and external facing business advocate
  • Acting as a digital finance impresario

While no one can predict the future, it is important that the CFO’s role continues to evolve in these areas and to support the business that will be.

At this point, many of us may ask: “How can we as finance professionals and stewards of business take on more of a Chief “Future” Officer focus?”

Below are a number of key aspects for CFOs to consider:

  • What is the future vision for your finance function?
  • How is this vision aligned to the overall business purpose and strategy?
  • How can budgeting and forecasting operate and how can these areas inform decision-making and future planning?
  • What is hiring, development and retention of finance team members need to look like now and into the future?
  • What will be the mix of non-traditional skills, data analytics and digital finance capability?
  • What focus should be placed on finance business partnering?
  • Where will finance activity be performed, how and by whom?
  • How does my skills need to adapt to balance technical, strategic, stakeholder, technological and finance team’s demands?

With the level of day-to-day commentary on digital disruption, finance talent and skills development and greater expectations of management, it is essential that the CFO role continues to evolve and protect businesses against that knockout punch.