A Regional CFO’s Perspective: What Makes a Strong Finance Chief

The world has gone digital. Music is now digital, and books are trending towards eBooks. GPS devices are disappearing – owing to the smartphone; newspapers are now “old news”; and smartphones are now cameras.

With a shift as fundamental as this, organizations must remain agile and innovative to remain relevant. Specifically, what does this mean to the CFO?

The shift towards the CFO being a business partner is translating into CFOs allocating more time meeting with business executives, and less time on pure financial and operational matters

CEOs are looking more than ever to their CFOs to guide them through these uneasy times, to act as a catalyst and an agent of change. Within this context, the role of the CFO is evolving.

Simply put, a strong CFO is vital and he or she needs to provide: first – a single source of truth; second – real-time finance processes underpinned with strong compliance; and third – unmatched insight and foresight.

Three roles

There has been a long deliberation over how CFOs are moving from being a Steward towards becoming a Strategist. The discussion has further developed in recent years – the CFO has to become a strong Business Partner as well.

How will all these three roles come into play today, given the new digital world, and new waves of technological innovations . . . plus other elements that are evolving?

CFO as a steward. Being a steward involves CFOs being responsible for the day-to-day accounting, treasury, finance, risk management and internal-control function.

Essentially, it is about safeguarding the assets of the organization by minimizing risk, and running a tight finance operation that is efficient and effective.

CFO as a strategist. Being a strategist involves contributing to the overall business strategy. This means going beyond delivering numbers and information, to delivering strategic insights which drive performance as well as the factors affecting it.

As a strategist, the CFO must involve acquiring relevant resources for the organization, and delivering organizational goals sustainably.

CFO as a business partner. In terms of the CFO being a Business Partner, it has typically portrayed the CFO as a business catalyst, or value integrator. Ernst & Young describes the core of business partnering as the successful combination of “practical economic theory and the effective allocation of scarce resources to achieve financial objectives.”

The accounting firm also emphasizes a number of factors which they believe makes a CFO a good business partner.

One of the most important factors underscored, in my opinion, is the ability to manage the finance function in operating from an efficient base, allowing the best resources to focus on analysis to support strategic and commercial operations which adds value.

Fundamentally, it must be about the CFO’s ability to contribute to business decision-making to seize the right market opportunities.

Striking the right balance

Ultimately, striking the right balance among the three roles is key for the CFO to bring true value to the business, as well as for his or her own personal development.

This doesn’t mean an even split across all three aspects, but rather, what makes the most sense for the business.

For example, the shift towards the CFO being a business partner is translating into CFOs allocating more time meeting with business executives, and less time on pure financial and operational matters.

Achieving the balance appropriate ta balance requires effort, dedication and commitment so that results of the tripartite-CFO role can be achieved. One can do this, for example, by creating measurable metrics for the core aspects of each role.

With CFOs taking a more business-oriented role, it is likely that they will be increasingly handed change-management roles and responsibilities.

For the first time, the same set of technology innovations can be harnessed to help make everything smarter, faster and simpler not only for businesses as a whole, but also for individuals

This could include aspects such as technology-driven transformation, including the makeover of legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, to new technology innovations that will streamline processes, drive collaboration, and become an overall value creator to the business.

With such additional responsibilities, striking a balance will be challenging, and vital to success.

Leveraging the right innovations

Earlier, I shared that in today’s volatile world, we need strong CFOs who are able to provide: a single source of truth, real-time finance processes coupled with strong compliance, and unmatched insight and foresight.

Today, this has been made possible by a perfect storm of technology innovations – the convergence of cloud, mobile, social and big data that is reshaping the future of business, and acting as a catalyst to empower forward-looking CFOs to achieve the three key aspects of a strong CFO.

Indeed, after striving for decades to standardize processes and improve efficiency, organizations around the world are now entering a new era of business transformation.

For the first time, the same set of technology innovations can be harnessed to help make everything smarter, faster and simpler not only for businesses as a whole, but also for individuals.

We know that transformational technologies will drive business innovation. As CFOs, if we can grasp the right innovations and leverage them smartly, we will become stronger.

About the Author

Colin Sampson is SVP and CFO Asia Pacific & Japan for European enterprise software giant SAP.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

 

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