Monday, 10th December 2018

CFOs play critical role in driving digital disruption

79% of UK CFOs agree that finance will continue to move from core finance skills to advanced digital, statistical and collaborative capabilities.

Chief Financial Officers (CFO) are playing a critical role in driving digital disruption across the organization, according to new research from Accenture (NYSE: ACN). Today’s CFOs oversee more than just the finance function and are now integral players in directing enterprise-wide digital investments and managing their economic outcomes and impacts.

The research report,The CFO Reimagined: From Driving Value to Building the Digital Enterprise, finds that CFOs have expanded beyond their traditional finance roles into areas that have broader consequences for the whole organization. In the UK, eight in 10 CFOs see identifying and targeting areas of new value across the business as one of their main responsibilities. More than three quarters (78 percent) believe it is within their purview to drive business-wide operational transformation.

"CFOs are increasingly stepping out from the confines of their role to act as strategic advisors as well as innovators across the entire enterprise," said David Axson, Senior Strategy Executive Principal at Accenture. "In an era of unprecedented disruption, this repositioning of the role will continue as CFOs take the role of digital stewards, using data to drive value and improve efficiency while mapping out the digital investments required for their organisations to remain competitive."

CFO as the Digital Investment Sherpa

UK CFOs are emerging as drivers of the digital agenda, with 80 percent heading up efforts to improve performance through adoption of digital technology, and 73 percent also exploring how disruptive technologies could benefit the entire organization and the business eco-system. Not only are CFOs carrying out their own tasks faster and better through automation, they’re also increasingly ushering in the “digitalization” of other functions and finding new ways to use technology to change business models and open new revenue streams.

CFOs: Get Your Data House in Order

The standard CFO to-do list is shifting towards strategic planning, advisory and analytics roles as CFOs continue to automate routine accounting, control and compliance tasks. Automation of these finance duties is enabling the finance function to focus on newer and more challenging tasks and bring the C-suite together to act on insights gleaned from data analysis. Today, 34 percent of finance tasks are carried out by technology; by 2021, almost half (44 percent) of these duties will be taken over by automation.

“CFOs’ use of data is expanding to other parts of the business. As a result, they will need to be more entrenched in transformational technologies such as AI and analytics to usher in digitization of the broader organization, create new business models and unlock new revenue streams,” said Dr. Christian Campagna, senior managing director, Accenture Strategy, CFO & Enterprise Value. “The CFOs who step up to manage these opportunities will be the true guardians of the enterprise.”

Future Finance Talent Is Calling

As the role of the CFO continues to evolve, so do the skillsets required to become a finance executive. Today’s finance function must include employees with a wide range of capabilities, from data visualization to flexible thinking. Most CFOs recognize that finance skills will continue to move away from core finance to advanced digital, statistics, operational and collaborative skills (79 percent). And more than three-quarters (76 percent) say the change must be rapid and drastic, as traditional finance roles may soon become obsolete.

The biggest challenge for CFOs will be recruiting or training the talent to understand how to collect data and gain insight from data. Almost 9 in ten (87 percent) UK CFOs agree that data storytelling is an essential skill for today’s finance professional. They must be more open-minded and collaborative to work effectively with and serve as strategic advisors to leaders in other business functions.

“It feels like there are two camps for what people look for in a CFO: the control or accounting background versus a more strategic finance role who partners with the CEO,” explains Chris Weber, CFO and executive vice president, Halliburton Company. “Over time, I think the shift has been towards this second role, even if that means the candidate isn't an accountant by training.”

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