RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • The Finance function is poised to help the business expand into future sources of growth. But it will need to cultivate agility.
  • CFOs who adopt an agile strategy can better prepare the function for challenges while positioning it to drive business growth.
  • By adopting the five steps we recommend, CFOs can cultivate agility and transform Finance into a responsive, always-ready team.


Finance has long held the role of steward of a business’s capital. But is it time for the function to tackle an additional role?

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are well-positioned for change. Accenture research has found more CFOs working to identify future sources of possible business growth—and thus setting the growth agenda for their organizations.

But becoming a business partner who contributes to the organization's strategy requires change for CFOs and the Finance function. Chief among the goals should be to cultivate agility.

Challenges stand in the way

Like Financial Services firms as a whole, CFOs and the Finance function face social, economic and technological change compounded by escalating regulatory pressure. Addressing the regulatory issues alone leaves the function with less capacity to re-think day-to-day activities such as reporting, compliance, planning and forecasting. Complicating matters are growing concerns that include these large-scale global trends:

Nimble competitors

Potentially dramatic turnover among S&P 500 companies that are losing ground to new, nimble competitors1

Perpetual disruption

An unrelenting state of disruption that is creating havoc for nearly three in four companies across all industries2

Too reactive

Finance functions that, according to most CFOs, are too reactive3

View All

Technological change is a particularly powerful force within the Finance function, where groups previously built data warehouses to store structured data to aid reporting and respond to business queries. Today, technology helps CFOs create data lakes that store structured and unstructured data—and that likely hold answers to questions no one’s yet thought to ask. New technology, in short, equips the Finance function to react quickly to insights—increasing its agility.

Why agile is essential

Agile functions are better prepared for a wide spectrum of activities, from delivery and product innovation to leadership and organizational adaptation.

The 2019 Business Agility Report identified four key benefits for organizations that report high levels of agility:4

  • Increased revenue, brand recognition and market share
  • Shorter turnaround times and high-quality offerings
  • Improved relationships with customers
  • Greater transparency and higher employee engagement

The gains are obvious but the path to getting there may not be as evident. For the Finance function, agility should be pursued with an eye on the function’s potential role as strategic advisor. Among the questions CFOs should consider:

  • Do we still have capacity to find new value opportunities, once we have met our recording and reporting responsibilities?
  • What more might the business want, beyond our recording and reporting support?
  • Do we have the right people, skills, data and technology to fulfill a new mission?

A focus on agility can help Finance embrace an incremental investment mindset across the function, and develop the capability to evaluate these investments based on small bets.

Want to get there now?

For CFOs ready to build agility now, we suggest these five steps to help them begin:

  1. Decouple supply and demand, aiming instead for product management that aligns delivery to strategic objectives. Quicker decision making can result when product areas (demand) and teams (supply) are aligned vertically.
  2. Build a “return on teams” mentality by funding technical excellence and empowering dedicated, cross-functional, high-performing teams. By cultivating tenured talent with historical knowledge and experience, CFOs build teams that can excel as units of capitalization.
  3. Review and fine-tune Finance’s portfolio, assessing progress and demand more frequently. This lets the function make small bets and permits iterative and incremental planning that aligns with longer-term strategies.
  4. Build systems to support transparent, accessible real-time data while decentralizing decision making as much as possible. A cross-functional portfolio team can handle strategic oversight, direction and budget allocation.
  5. Shift from thinking in terms of large-scale projects to creating incremental commitments within product areas and delivering on them quarterly. This supports setting ambitious goals that can be tracked via key performance indicators to quantitively manage and measure results.

A strong change management effort can bolster an effective agile transformation. Fostering a people-centered approach that measures individuals’ adoption of the agile mindset is likely to gain the best results for Finance.

Can we help you begin?

An agile Finance function makes better use of capital, improves its cooperation with IT and other allied functions, and drives more overall flexibility. An agile function also delivers better support for the business, including an ability to identify and drive growth opportunities. Is it time for your Finance function to take a more proactive seat at the table?

Learn how Accenture can help you begin your agile journey.

1 “Comprehensive Disruption, Learn to Thrive Under Pressure,” Accenture 2017.

2Soar in the Face of Disruption,” Accenture 2020.

3CFO Reimagined, From Bottom Line to Front Line,” Accenture 2018.

42019 Business Agility Report: Raising the Bar,” Business Agility Institute.

Todd Rebella

Managing Director – CFO Enterprise Value


Aimee Palmer

Senior Manager, Business Agility Lead


Kat Conner

Senior Manager – Business Agility Lead

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Low returns on your enterprise transformation?
Get future-ready with intelligent finance

Subscription Center
Stay in the Know with Our Newsletter Stay in the Know with Our Newsletter