Survey Indicates a Tough Balancing Act of CFO Priorities

Cost reduction, financial control, and the emerging responsibility of forecasting are the top three priorities for today’s finance leaders, finds a new survey by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and IMA (the Institute of Management Accountants).


The finance professionals surveyed for the December 2012 Finance Leaders Survey Report revealed that while they need to continue to firmly control the cost base, they must also sustain their businesses’ growth strategies by providing business insight to support decision making.


Respondents answered that their biggest challenge is coping with “too many finance priorities.”


“We know the role that finance leaders are performing is challenging," says Jamie Lyon, head of corporate sector at ACCA. "In the present environment, there continue to be challenges on the cost base, but of course, businesses are also trying to look to the future to find paths for growth."


Lyon adds there there is a focus from the finance function to work with business to drive insight into the appropriate decisions.


"This is both a reflection of the current environment and, I think, a reflection of the trajectory of the longer-term priorities of the function. We really see a challenge right now in getting this balance and focus right because the survey suggests this isn’t necessarily where leaders consider the function to be strongest right now.”


The survey also shows that finance leaders are involved with an increasing breadth of stakeholders. Some relationships with traditional stakeholders, such as auditors and bankers, remain high in importance, but increasingly, stakeholders like customers and suppliers are also becoming more relevant.


“Challenges for CFOs and other finance leaders center on prioritising the demands on the finance function," observes Raef Lawson, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, IMA vice president of research. "This is top of their concerns, followed by poor finance IT capability to managing increasing demands from the organisation for management information."


The report poses a thought provoking question for the global profession: because the finance function’s effectiveness is tested by so many priorities and challenges, do CFOs have the capacity or the capability to meet all the demands placed on them?”


According to Lyon, the report asserts that there is a need for companies to focus on the evolving role of the finance function and develop broader skills among finance staff.


"Traditional skills, such as financial planning and analysis, are a must for finance leaders, but we know that they need to bring much more to the table, particularly capabilities such as communication skills, influencing skills, and a deep understanding of the business environment,” notes Lyon.