When Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “the only thing that is constant is change” he probably would never guess that his thinking would remain relevant centuries later.
But the Deloitte paper, The Future CFOs: Thriving in chaos and driving change, highlights the growing importance of finance for driving business decisions and preparing the organization for future growth. It suggests the need for the CFO to navigate these disruptions from multiple angles and have a vision and the ability to drive the organization to deliver value by utilizing the opportunities presented by these disruptions.
CFOs are akin to general managers, supporting the business, managing a team in the digital present, the role of the CFO needs to change to align with changes transforming the business.
“As they grow in an organization, CFOs must become general managers, supporting the business and managing a team. They must also embrace technology as they go along, otherwise there will be other people out there ready to embrace [technology] faster,” notes Rishi Mehra, financial controller at Aon Asia-Pacific.
For Mehra, embracing technology is a competitive advantage for the CFO. Armed with technology, the CFO of the digital economy is no longer an accounting professional but rather a business strategist. As automation and technology rapidly advance to replace human interaction, analytics will become an integral input to the CFO to understand future trends and help build growth plans for the organization.
In an exclusive interview with CFO Innovation, Mehra spoke candidly about the challenges CFOs and the finance team face as businesses embark on their enterprise-wide digital transformation. For Mehra this means tapping into available resources including technology as the company squares off against the convergence of multiple factors, including evolving regulation, relentless cyber threats, expanding competition and changing customer needs.
Workday’s vice president of financial management product strategy, Tim Wakeford agrees with Mehra’s observations and adds that organizations are under pressure to thrive under so much pressure. “The biggest skill that a CFO needs to have at the moment is the ability to lead and manage change in the organization,” he concludes.
Workday’s Wakeford said the role of the CFO has changed since digital transformation became a corporate agenda. “The requirements of the CFO have also changed. It’s now necessary for CFOs to embrace digitalization of an organization and use that to change the way finance function works. CFOs need to look at the data that exists within the organization, harness that, and use that to make better commercial decisions,” suggested Wakeford.
Be role models
Deloitte cautions that CFOs need to set the standards and be role models for the changing requirements, and help the rest of the organization to adapt to these regulatory and technological changes in a way that the organization’s culture and ethical practices are not compromised.
“And for finance, what does that mean? It is bringing the best of finance to all the internal clients of our businesses. So as we embark on that journey, we decided to do finance one way across Aon. And it is important to do that consistently and in a seamless fashion,” Mehra said.
Technology will play a crucial role in ensuring a unified finance operation across the organization worldwide. “Technology creates a level of efficiency to the Finance department releasing resources that are very much required by the organization to do a better job for the business,” he elaborated.
He concedes that innovation, as part of any digital transformation effort, will see more people against it than supportive of it. He asserts that to get people buy-in will require finance to come up with use cases to demonstrate value of the innovation being sought.
Discarding the numbers-only persona of the past, Wakeford adds that the digital CFO needs to marry the operational data that lives outside the CFO’s domain with traditional CFO data to provide insight that drive competitive advantage to the business.