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People and profits: What it takes to be a revolutionary CFO

People and profits What it takes to be a revolutionary CFO - Global Banking | Finance

By Laura Wiler, Vice President, Sage Intacct

CFOs have been an invaluable commodity during the pandemic, steering businesses through disruption and making the tough choices needed to ensure continuity. Yet it takes a special breed of CFO to pull a business out of survival mode and back into growth, competitive differentiation and innovation.

Businesses have lived with uncertainty and economic disruption for more than a year now, but that doesn’t mean the future is any more certain. The CFO’s role is to predict that future ahead of schedule and to put their business on the best possible footing to meet it. In this new climate, that may mean transforming the company from the ground up. To achieve this, a revolutionary CFO must surround themselves with the best people – and know how to look after them – and they have to make sure everyone is equipped with the right tools and technologies for the job.

An analyst from the future

A CFO needs insight before they make critical decisions that could change the face of a company. Yet 70% of CFOs still make decisions based on gut feeling and experience. These are essential qualities in a CFO, but decisions also need to be backed up with data. This is more than just data on the business’s past performance – a CFO has to pay attention to what’s happening around them in real-time, and anticipate what may change in the future. 

A revolutionary CFO isn’t staring in the rear-view mirror, they are using data and predictive analytics to look ahead and chart a new direction for the business. When everything works together, the value is immense; data-driven companies are 23 times more likely to acquire customers and 19 times likelier to be successful. Yet, as every CFO knows, good data can be hard to find. Relevant and useful information is often scattered across a myriad of different silos and departments – shared between a company, its partners and customers – with no thread connecting it all together. 

To access and understand this precious insight, a revolutionary CFO has to use every tool at their disposal. This includes cloud platforms that connect disparate data environments together, but also AI tools that can achieve what people can’t. Robo-advisors and virtual assistants, for example, can instantly send automated messages triggered by customer behaviour. This is true real-time intelligence. When a CFO understands what’s happening in their company, industry and marketplace right now, they gain a powerful head-start on the competition.

A voice for tech-enabled change

It’s important, however, that the CFO doesn’t keep all this insight and technology for themselves. A revolutionary CFO understands that they aren’t the sole font of insight and innovation. Opportunities can come from anywhere within a business, and can be discovered by anyone. As one of the most important decision makers in deciding where investment should go, a CFO should be an evangelist for the technologies they’re confident can help the company. But they should also push to democratise access to technology at all levels within the company. 

When times are tough, the most obvious strategy is to cut costs and find efficiencies. But to make a business stronger and more competitive in the future, now is also the time to be investing in staff and the tools they can use to make their work more productive and efficient. 

During the pandemic, investment was most likely centred around digital collaboration and video conferencing platforms. Going forward, CFOs should be seriously considering automation solutions that streamline processes, and sentiment analysis tools that help keep employees happy, healthy and productive. AI represents the next frontier in technology investment, with investment predicted to exceed $125bn by 2025. CFOs will be key to driving this forward.

Revolutionary means being a ‘people person’

Technology is crucial, but it’s only part of the story. Behind every revolutionary CFO is a uniquely talented team of individuals, sharing in the same tools and insights. This invariably means that a great CFO also has to be an excellent manager of people. They require the willingness to learn from those around them, and the tenacity to seek out the best people to listen to.

Empathy is also key. The pandemic has put pressure on us all, and no one has been impacted in the same way. Approachability and flexibility are key. While they mightn’t always realise it, CFOs play a big role in establishing a company’s culture. Every decision they make – from sharing financial results with employees, to rigorously challenging budget approvals – has an impact. An effective leader understands how these decisions ripple out and effect the people around them, and can moderate their behaviour accordingly.

Today’s CFO has to wear many different hats. They need to be a forecaster, an analyst, an advocate for technology and the glue that holds their team together. That’s an enormous amount of responsibility, but it’s also a great source of power. The CFO has a unique opportunity to transform their business, to leave it in a better position than when they found it. During this time of uncertainty, that is the guiding principle of a revolutionary CFO.  

Global Banking & Finance Review


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