By Lauren Ruef
For chief financial officers (CFOs), assuming roles outside of the finance function is increasing in importance. From reporting tools to automation opportunities, CFOs are learning to roll with the punches with a host of new technologies coming online.
CFOs must prepare for anything the modern workplace might require, including emerging collaboration platforms and cloud technology. Finance is a sphere that requires a great deal of specialized knowledge, but now CFOs also need skills like innovating new business models and breaking down complex financial concepts into layman’s terms. These may not be traditional priorities for the position, but they are modern ones.
CFOs are the gatekeepers to the company’s numbers. Developing a companywide strategy to gather and analyze data is a massive undertaking that can be made more manageable by working closely with business units such as information technology (IT). But recent surveys show that IT and the CFO might not be on the same page. According to a Forbes report:
“The 2018 Thales Data Threat Report showed that the IT department and the C suite aren't on the same page. Each has different cybersecurity priorities. It turns out, nearly 40 percent of IT professionals don’t even think executive teams understand the full risk of a cyberattack.”
In an age where data breaches have affected previously stalwart companies, it’s essential that CFOs assemble a competent team to handle the nuances of data security and compliance. These measures of trust are crucial, and any organization’s C suite must fully prepare against the reputational and financial fallout of a multimillion dollar data breach.
Forecasting Market Disruptions
Nobody has a crystal ball, but CFOs can use numbers-based patterns as a powerful predictive tool. Their analytical expertise helps them see where money is slipping through the cracks or underperforming. Previously, their tasks may have been siloed to financial reporting or reviewing spreadsheets; now CFOs are tapped for their prolific understanding of the economic landscape. CFOs have solid judgment about market fluctuations and the stress points that a business might experience in the coming year. They are among the first to spot market indicators triggered by natural disasters, price wars, and national security events. But CFOs can do much more beyond threat forecasting.
CFOs see gaps in internal workflows or where the customer experience is dropping off. They are great innovation partners, using their product knowledge and technology expertise to tighten the ship with better tech solutions for menial tasks on the operational sides of the business. In this role, CFOs act more as data analysts, looking at multiple angles of an organization. This is much, much more than the traditional notion of a senior-level accountant, crunching numbers behind a desk.
Connecting the Dots
Being in the C suite hierarchy provides the CFO with a spot among other gifted communicators. It is their responsibility not only to look at the data, but also interpret what it means across departments in terms that the rest of the organization will understand. This is a monumental task, even for a leader with strong people skills.
A successful CFO will also learn which metrics matter in nonfinancial departments, knowing their performance indicators, and how to measure customer satisfaction scores and conversion rates. While this might sound like a deviation from the CFO’s natural environment, it’s actually an enhancement of the skills they already bring to the table.
A company is an interconnected system. While it might seem that CFOs don’t pull levers in operations, marketing, or human resources, their influence is paramount to each department’s success.
A Macro Perspective
In a world that is increasingly connected through travel, communications, and data, knowing how to tap wider audiences is an essential skill for a CFO. Plans for new market opportunities and the navigation of existing business partnerships requires agility and connections across industries and territory.
CFOs are embracing everything from technology decisions to determining data architecture for organizationwide use. Great advancements are possible in these areas as CFOs look at how artificial intelligence can make tiny adjustments with big repercussions for automating menial tasks.
Due to business acumen and data-driven innovation, the CFO has become a go-to voice for the company to ensure business operations and financial decisions are sound. In addition to being a data analyst and risk assessor, CFOs are moving into more strategic roles. Organizations need level-headed decision makers in markets that are rapidly changing and uncertain. Moving outside of their traditional, fixed scope, CFOs are showing how quickly and effectively they can identify the needs of the company, create better cohesion between business units, and develop a more successful environment for top talent.
Lauren Ruef is a research analyst for Nvoicepay, with experience conducting market research and crafting digital content for technology companies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.