In brief

In brief

  • CFOs’ role in their organizations is shifting due to the accelerating pace of change, the expanding volume and power of data, and other trends.
  • Federal CFOs face the added obstacles of ensuring organizational continuity during transition periods and more complex reporting structures.
  • By embracing new operating models and technologies, federal CFOs will be in a strong position to lead their agencies forward post-COVID.
  • Successful federal CFOs play three distinct roles – the economic guardian, strategic advisor, and transformation architect.

Accenture’s recent global research, “CFO Now: Breakthrough Speed for Breakout Value,” found that the CFO’s role is evolving rapidly in both the government and commercial sectors. Leaders are increasing their influence, by optimizing core business and financial processes and by transforming enterprise data into the strategic, real-time, and predictive insights they need to navigate today’s escalating pace of change.

The challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have accelerated this trend. The role and scope of the CFO function has expanded to include broader leadership and change agent responsibilities. Particularly within the federal sector, CFOs are taking on more responsibility to improve both the systems and processes within the financial management function to better serve their agency missions and goals. By automating their operations, becoming more sophisticated consumers of data, and by empowering their workforces to expand their capabilities, CFOs have been able to lead with confidence at the faster cadence that today’s environment demands.

Within the federal government, CFOs face the added burden of ensuring organizational continuity, as large numbers of seasoned employees become eligible to transition out of the federal workforce, leaving gaps in institutional and business knowledge. By taking advantage of maturing commercial technologies and embracing more agile operating models, CFOs can overcome these constraints while enhancing financial and operational performance.

Our research tells us that successful federal CFOs play three distinct roles within their agencies:

Economic guardian

Leading a highly automated, data-driven finance organization to ensure adaptive, efficient, and resilient enterprise operations.

CFOs are increasing their use of automation to reduce costs and errors, expanding their use of analytics to maintain more consistent and compliant performance, and training their workforces to deliver more strategic insight.

Strategic advisor

Providing targeted insights and modeling to help other C-suite executives improve the performance of their organizations.

CFOs are leveraging their unique operational perspective to work collaboratively with peers to assess strategies, mitigate risks, and optimize performance.

Transformation architect

Driving efforts to evolve and transform operating models as well as the enterprise’s role in society.

CFOs are initiating new efforts to unlock trapped value, operate more digitally, improve societal impact, and rethink the status quo.

This emerging model provides a framework for federal CFOs to grow their influence and impact while improving the performance and resiliency of their agencies.

About the research

Accenture has formally assessed the impact of financial operations on business performance across industries since 2003. This has provided us with unique insights into the evolving roles of CFOs over the past two decades.

For the seventh and most recent iteration of our biennial State of the CFO research – CFO Now: Breakthrough Speed for Breakout Value – we surveyed over 1,300 senior finance leaders (C-level or C-1) between April and June 2020. These respondents were from $1 billion-plus enterprises spanning 13 industries and 11 countries. This research was supplemented by qualitative interviews with more than 40 senior financial leaders.

For our federal report – Federal CFOs Leading Through Change – we surveyed an additional 100 federal executives in October 2020 to compare their performance and attitudes against the global baseline. These executives spanned a cross-section of civilian and defense agencies, with 50 percent identified as agency or department CFOs or equivalent roles, and 50 percent identified as senior finance leaders.

Brad Gladstone

Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services

Jeff Miller

Managing Director – Aerospace & Defense

Scott Quehl

Director – Accenture Federal Services, Growth & Strategy Lead, Applied Intelligence


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The role of the federal CFO is evolving as they expand their influence and adopt new operating models and technologies. New research explores how federal CFOs can lead with confidence at the faster cadence that today’s environment demands.

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Federal CFOs leading through change

The role of the federal CFO is evolving as they expand their influence and adopt new operating models – learn more.


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Executive summary

A summary of the main findings and analysis in "Federal CFOs leading through change".

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