Long before the pandemic turned things upside down, the chief financial officer role had begun to change. Led primarily by the digitalisation of the finance function and the rise of tech savvy young finance professionals up the corporate ladder, CFOs were moving beyond keeping the purse strings and assuming a much broader role in the execution of digital strategies within their organisations. In many cases, CFOs have become the architects of and catalysts for technological transformation.
“The CFO’s role has evolved beyond the finance lead to become the ‘digital steward’ of their organisation and CFOs are increasingly focused on enabling strategy beyond the finance function,” says Aoife Donnelly, who leads Accenture’s CFO and enterprise value practice in Ireland.
“Some of their initiatives outside finance include setting the cloud agenda and reconstructing business models to reflect the shift from the ‘product’ to the ‘service’ economy. CFOs now have a golden opportunity to lead, but doing so involves greater collaboration across the enterprise. Moving collectively will continue to be a key part of the CFOs’ work as they focus more on setting the future direction of the business. To enable this shift, CFOs are looking to redesign how people work and change the finance culture, focusing on building new skills in the finance workforce such as data fluency, innovation and storytelling.”
Lead the thinking
Donnelly’s comments come on foot of new research from Accenture into the changing role of the CFO. It shows that 72 per cent of CFOs now have the final say in the appropriate technology direction for their organisations and companies are increasingly expecting them to lead the thinking around future operating models and the digital agenda with a focus on risk, security and environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Almost 70 per cent of the CFOs surveyed said the ultimate responsibility for ESG performance now rests with them.
Financial reporting is what will effectively drive the strategy and achieving this means getting everything aligned as finance is at the end of every process
When Michael Rice joined Glenveagh Properties four years ago as CFO he asked for responsibility for IT. “I wanted it within my remit because, from my previous experience of working in a global business with Kingspan, I knew the importance of good IT systems and speedy financial reporting from a strategic point of view, particularly if the intention is to scale a business,” he says.
“Financial reporting is what will effectively drive the strategy and achieving this means getting everything aligned as finance is at the end of every process. So, if we can influence as much as possible within those processes it means we’re getting better information to work with. For Glenveagh this meant moving everything into the cloud and putting in new enterprise resource planning (ERP) to allow us to share information across the business.”
The organisational disruption caused by the pandemic may have accelerated the broadening of the CFO’s role. However, Rice says it was happening anyway not least because those assuming senior finance positions over the last decade have grown up with…