Friday, September 20, 2019

CFOs operating more like chief strategy officers, study finds

AUTHOR Jane Thier@thier_jane

Dive Brief:

1) Finance leaders are becoming more concerned about security, data and internal customers, consulting firm Protiviti found in its annual Finance Trends Survey released last week.

2) More than 70% of CFOs and VPs of finance named “strategic planning” as one of their highest priority areas in which they wanted to improve their capabilities, highlighting the need for these finance leaders to focus on strategic matters as much as day-to-day finance and transactional matters, Protiviti found.

3) The survey involved 817 CFOs and finance executives of public and private companies, with 58% of those companies generating revenue over $1 billion.

Dive Insight:

“CFOs can’t just focus on data analytics instead of their previous duties," Chris Wright, a Protiviti managing director and global leader of the firm’s Business Performance Improvement practice, told CFO Dive. "They must add them together, [even if that means finding] ways to automate some of the older responsibilities.

"These new CFO duties shouldn’t be [to the detriment of the finance team], they’re opportunities for the CFO staff to sharpen their own skills," Wright said. "They make the CFO a better boss and the finance team a better place to be, and that can have larger applications for retention and morale.”

Across the board, finance professionals prioritize data security and internal customer service: 84% of CFOs and VPs of finance and 77% of other finance professionals ranked security and data privacy as top priorities.

“A data breach — whether related to financial or non-financial data — can have severe financial and reputational ramifications and as cyber risks increase, finance leaders must adequately budget, allocate resources and prioritize company-wide security and data protection measures,” Wright said in the survey report.

Data is increasingly informing strategic decision-making within organizations, the study said. As a result, CFOs' internal customers — typically other executives within the organization — are increasingly requesting that the finance function “provide real-time information with specific insights, metrics and enhanced data analytics about the organization’s financial and operational performance,” the report said.

Nearly 80% of CFOs and VPs of finance, and 70% of other finance professionals, cited enhanced data analytics as a priority for the finance function to improve knowledge and capabilities. Meeting the changing demands and expectations of internal customers is also a top area driving finance workforce increases.

Twenty-eight percent of CFOs and finance VPs plan to downsize their workforce in the next year due to new efficiencies achieved through robotic process automation (RPA) implementation. “We think RPA integration is related to the growing duties of the CFO,” Wright told CFO Dive. “If you automate, you have more time. [These developments] must be framed in context of budget.”

Wright encourages finance leaders to think of RPA as an opportunity to outsource menial tasks, rather than vital jobs, “because [with RPA], your job then gets elevated to do more important things,” Wright said.

“This is a peer-to-peer report, CFOs to CFOs, their own view of their own responsibilities,” Wright said. “CFOs should understand that this is not a lofty view of an aspiration created by visionaries. It’s a reality-based view of what can happen, because there are companies that are doing it.”

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