Social Enterprises Advisor
It feels like fortuitous timing, writing this piece as the world is coming to term with the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. I reflect below on the tremors across industries and my personal reflection as a CFO in the mid-2010s.
One thing is certain – CFOs have shed the traditionalist roles of the past. Where previously the CFO was primarily responsible for creating shareholder value, maximising revenue, and delivering a successful audit outcome, the outlook for the CFO of 2020 is very different. This person is a strategic partner to the CEO and board, optimising finances, but also shaping strategy and harnessing technology and data to drive the creation of company value. In this changing role, the CFO, apart from being the leader of a team, and influencer of strategy, is also required to be a consensus builder – working with the executive team and the board to achieve common goals. While companies and organisations adapt to the post-COVID-19 world, the CFO role will be more crucial than ever, keeping said companies running in very difficult economic circumstances.
Another significant area of change is the world of work and the changing nature of the finance workforce. Audit and finance are two of many areas where the advancement of technology, use of machine learning and big data will render some traditional roles obsolete. This requires the CFO to rethink the sustainability of the traditional roles and embrace the opportunity that technology brings. There are many examples across industries where machine learning is being used to perform tedious reconciliation functions previously undertaken by several staff members. This has required CFOs to pivot in terms of skills – using this opportunity to reskill key staff who can spend their time on value-adding analysis and decision-making rather than manual reconciliation functions. This is just one example of how the technology opportunity can be used by the CFO to reduce fear and bring staff along on this journey for mutual benefit.
In this vein, there is also increasing support for a much stronger link between the CFO and CIO/CTO roles. These roles can be highly influential by working jointly, advocating for greater investment in and use of technology to drive efficiency and change in companies. Technology is rapidly changing, and the COVID-19 outbreak may have caused an acceleration in this trend, prompting greater reliance technology to support the transition to remote working, significantly for companies with global operations and dispersed workforces.
In summary, the CFO of 2020 cannot be a traditionalist. This person has morphed into a multiskilled strategic influencer, embracing innovation and leading by example, generating holistic company value, generating excitement in the workforce of the future.
2020’s CFO will need to be an aspirational, creative thinker, imbuing the following qualities: embrace innovation and advocate for technology, leader by example, strategist flexing easily between granular operations and big sky thinking, and consensus builder. It is a challenging but exciting time for the world, and while recognising the risks, I would encourage both CFOs and aspiring CFOs to see the real opportunities change has created. The post-COVID-19 world provides the platform for the CFO to re-write the rules and create teams and roles that truly embrace the future.