Thinking Like a 21st Century CFO

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The CFO role is changing. A recent survey by Forbes Financial Council highlighted the changing role of CFO that “CFOs are becoming more strategic thinkers and doers than in years past”, who now lead IT, HR and other non-financial groups.[1] As business is redefined by technological advancements and disruptions, CFOs are evolving from financial supervisors to all-rounded strategists.

Intelligent automation and CFO-as-all-rounded strategist

More than any other technology, intelligent automation is enabling the CFO to develop into a business strategist by empowering them to take more decisions with better data.

In a 2018 CFO Research survey of 689 global CFOs and senior finance executives, high-level analytics and the tools that enable it are increasingly seen as required capabilities by CFOs. Among those who ranked themselves in the lower tier related to Analytics and Measurement (includes BI and analytics, local GAAP, IFRS, Big Data, and Machine Learning), 60% of them is planning to move out of the lower tier within 12-18 months.[2]

An evolution is clearly taking place within the profession and those who are willing to evolve now are most likely to thrive in the future. Cognitive tools are already assuming the more laborious responsibilities of the function. Ambitious CFOs can expect that they will be increasingly liberated to spend more time on high value assignments that synthesize data analysis with strategic decision-making.

Have you identified the necessary metrics?

Many CFOs acknowledge the potential impact of change within the profession. A majority of finance departments expect to deploy one of several top emerging technologies by 2020, according to a worldwide survey of more than 400 organizations by Gartner[3].

But not everyone is prepared for this evolution: over one in three said that their finance teams were not knowledgeable about the types of potential applications of emerging technologies. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of CFOs surveyed agreed that they need to be more proactive in embracing new and emerging technologies.

So how can ambitious CFOs quickly adapt to the changes around them? Beyond merely acquiring the relevant technology, it is equally important to identify the metrics that one seeks to measure through an analytics platforms. Be it human performance or financial insights to inform prospective M&A activity, CFOs can only obtain a competitive edge through data when it is tracking the most pressing problems.

Opportunities in store for CFOs

Ultimately, CFOs themselves are responsible for driving change within the profession. Technology may be the catalyst but it is only as valuable as the insights and actions that result from it.

Ambitious CFOs will also recognize they are not the only ones in the boardroom whose roles are undergoing change. CEOs are increasingly required to deal with a growing array of external risks and expectations, from fending off disruptive competitors to communicating with customers and consumers through social media.

To cope with their own changing roles, CEOs are delegating more of their internal responsibilities, creating an opportunity for CFOs to enhance their value in the boardroom.

Today’s CFOs must therefore not only be competent financial managers, but also capable data analysts, business strategists and internal consultants to the CEO. For those who are curious, ambitious and strategic, technology represents an opportunity to deepen their relationship with CEO by empowering them with more insights and strategic counsel.

It is not enough to know that technology is changing business; CFOs must seek to actively champion technology within their organizations and ensure that it is tracking the most valuable metrics. Adapting to change is rarely easy but being left behind is harder still.


[1] Source:

[2] Source: Tata Consultancy Services and CFO Magazine



About the Author

Wendy Wang is the Group CFO & Group COO at Tricor.