As the pace of business intensifies, speed is the operative word. With billions in play, faster decision making means everything.

In my conversations with finance executives, I consistently see how the expectations for a CFO continue to grow. Though this story has been unfolding for years, what is eye-opening and instructive is the great progress chief financial officers (CFOs) and the finance function have made to keep up with change.

COVID-19 hasn’t slowed CFOs down. As our 2021 Global CFO Research has shown, the pandemic has accelerated their transformation as strategic partners across the C-suite. Many CFOs are moving in the right direction, but it’s critical they take this transformation to another level.

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Our latest research shows CFOs need to fulfill the evolving requirements of their core role as economic guardians and their newer responsibilities as architects of business value and catalysts of digital strategy.

But for CFOs to master these roles, they’ll need a laser focus on agility through technology, breakthrough speed and fresh thinking.

Agility through technology

Crisis after crisis, volatility is here to stay. Leaders know they need to assess situation and risks quickly and adjust to new circumstances—whether that’s to beat competitors or satisfy customers’ changing preferences.

Financial planning and analysis (FP&A) organizations are becoming more digitally enabled by adopting new technology, moving to the cloud, automating traditional finance tasks and improving data sets.

But they need to do even more to reach a level of agility that is a true match for volatility.

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In their new role as architects of enterprise-wide business value, for example, CFOs are breaking down silos, collaborating across the C-suite and strategically rethinking ways of working. Already, 72% of CFOs report they have the final say on the appropriate technology direction of the enterprise. No longer just focused on the cost agenda, CFOs are implementing digital technologies throughout the finance function in the face of greater expectations, responsibilities and opportunities.

Accenture’s own finance function demonstrated this agility when it helped bring our new growth model to life. We reorganized our structure, eliminated hierarchies, and simplified policies and processes to improve collaboration and empower local market leadership. That we could do this at speed was in large part due to our single instance enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, fully in the cloud.

Today, finance has the ability to scale with the demands of business and drive further value for the company.

Breakthrough speed

Agility supports business resilience and continuity. But companies need more than continuity. CFOs need to unleash breakthrough speed. They can no longer use technology to solve yesterday’s problems. They need to deploy predictive insights into intelligent finance operations, powered by data, applied intelligence and digital technologies. As such, they’ll gain a broader view of the entire business and create sustainable value in the face of disruption like interest volatility, recessions and talent gaps.

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With better systems and technology that can impact the entire enterprise, CFOs need to actively seek out ways to empower breakthrough insights and decision making.

From helping manufacturing teams and factory plants understand demand to translating that data to inform buying, CFOs, as economic guardians, should adopt a predictive focus to stay ahead of market and business dynamics.

CFOs are often described as painstakingly thorough. So what would it take for them to prioritize breakthrough speed? With early and broad input, CFOs can be confident that they have the insights they need to make faster and more strategic enterprise-wide decisions, spanning from R&D to M&A.

Fresh thinking

“Innovative” and “finance function” don’t often go together. But leading CFOs are relentlessly bringing fresh thinking and an innovative perspective to old and new problems. That includes moving beyond a traditional view based exclusively on finance processes to one that incorporates an ‘end-to-end business processes’ perspective - collaborating more closely with other corporate functions.

As catalysts of digital strategy, for example, CFOs are focused on the return from investments into new digital business models. They defy norms, for instance by imagining how automation can not only improve processes but can also enhance the employee experience, or even drive new growth.

Already 41% of CFOs say the most impactful initiative they were instrumental in driving was identifying and unlocking new value (such as through new business models). And 26% say enabling innovation is the most significant outcome that they’ve achieved across the enterprise.

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While CFOs are certainly moving in the right direction, they need to intensify their efforts.

To embrace their evolving roles and wear these new hats well, CFOs have to continually apply fresh thinking.  We know that 72% say they are introducing non-traditional skills into the finance function (such as analytics, business agility, value architecture and storytelling). But they also need to assist finance professionals in their support of wider business initiatives.

A full 74% say that the finance function, led by the CFO, will champion a new way of operating across the enterprise.

These new roles and imperatives have been in the air for a while now, but if you’re as taken aback by the increasing speed of business as I am, I invite you to read the full Accenture Global CFO Research report to learn about the critical actions you can take now.

See more Finance insights.

Dr. Christian Campagna

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, CFO & Enterprise Value Global Lead

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