The expanded role of the CFO
July 3, 2018
The changing role of the CFO: From financial reporters to business disrupters who steer corporate growth agendas. It’s a role that helps set the timing, pace and execution of digital business transformation as organizations pivot to the New. We spoke with Steve Culp, senior managing director for Accenture, who leads the CFO finance function agenda, to see what’s on the horizon.
We’ve known for a while now that the CFO’s role is changing. But how exactly? And is the pace of that change accelerating?
Steve Culp: Without a doubt, it’s changing. Every CFO I talk to confirms that the role is much broader than it’s ever been. And the pace of change is ever-increasing. So, the CFO, almost by definition, is moving beyond the four walls of finance and filling a more strategic, leadership role. Playing the part of an “economic guardian” of the broader business plan as their organization embraces digital.
So, the CFO, almost by definition, is moving beyond the four walls of finance and filling a more strategic, leadership role. Playing the part of an “economic guardian” of the broader business plan as their organization embraces digital.
In light of digital, exactly how is their role changing and what’s it evolving into?
SC: Embracing digital fundamentally changes the way organizations operate: Every organization is missing some skill, some capability. Capital and investment levels are never unlimited. Increasingly the executive team is really looking to the CFO and the finance function to help them understand the economic output of their move to digital. So, the question becomes: How do you set the pace, the sequencing and the level of investments to get from where you are today to that world of really embracing digital? All while continuing to drive strong returns to your shareholders.
What role are CFOs playing when it comes to data? Are they the data governors, the analysts or the predictors of that data?
SC: Of those three categories, their role is more about the analysis and the prediction, bringing the insights, using the data to frame questions the business has around directional choices. And then being able to demonstrate across the different scenarios, in a more fact-based manner, the outcomes they would expect and ultimately drive the decisions the organization will take. On the point around data governors: The CFO and the finance organization doesn’t play that role. Data governance is set across the organization—the role of the CFOs in that conversation is more as a contributor, identifier, and qualifier. But I wouldn’t call them the governors.
We see finance continuing to move from back office to be much more connected with business leaders, acting as confidantes projecting where the business is going. What are competitors doing? How are markets changing? Instead of looking in the rear-view mirror, collecting the data and reporting yesterday’s news.
What’s the innovation you see within the realm of CFO that’s most exciting to you?
SC: That’s an easy answer: Artificial Intelligence. And even some of the aspects of virtual reality coming together in a way that two, three years ago we probably could not have imagined. Particularly in risk. We’ve seen an evolution around robotics, around much greater harnessing of data and analytics. With one of our clients, we helped them develop a virtual reality environment where they’re bringing together financial data and external data through voice records, and video and even through things like weather reports. It allows them to survey their environment through a richer screen of data. So around the world, you can experience these virtual environments and basically live in the data.
What are the three “must have” skills finance executives and CFOs need within their teams today?
SC: Being able to ask the right questions about where the business is going with an economic view is a core skill set that is just too scarce in too many organizations. But when you put on top of that the ability to run analytics. Then you add financial acumen. Then layer a third piece, which is industry know-how and put the three together, you really power up the finance function and can get a very different caliber of output.
If you had to sum up in a tweet something that would inspire younger financial professionals that are looking to become the CFO, what would your message be?
SC: There’s a quote I like a lot by a chap named Matthew Bishop and, it’s: “The world will never be as slow as it is today.” And if you’re a finance professional with all the access to the tools, technology and data, there’s never been a better time like the present to be in that seat.