There’s no doubt about it, the influence of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is growing and has been for some time – if you break it down, every business transaction is a financial decision.
But as we emerge from the recession, CFOs that have successfully navigated the downturn have elevated their status and proven themselves to be highly beneficial to their companies on a strategic level that goes far beyond being responsible for the numbers.
Add this to a reduction in the influence of other senior areas like HR, where culture now trumps recruitment, and IT where rapid changes in technology, particularly in cloud, have left clunky networks obsolete, and the CFO is more powerful than ever.
Everything points towards CFOs dominating the boardroom for the next ten years – Management Today recently reported that 79% of CFOs agree that their financial expertise means they are more in demand for board-level roles.
There are five ways the role of the CFO seems set to evolve:
1. CFOs will become agents of change
Culture and engagement are not two areas that traditional CFOs and FDs will be familiar with. However, in order to succeed in their own jobs (if they’re coming in to an underperforming company for example) CFOs will need to become increasingly involved in making fundamental changes.
2. The idea of the CFO as a right hand to the CEO is not going away
Every decision in business can be categorised as a financial decision, so it’s logical for the CEO to lean on the CFO for guidance. In industries like regulated financial services, the role of the CFO is even more significant. He or she is shielding the CEO from the authorities by having oversight over compliance and long-term market risks. In a report called ‘CFO and Beyond‘, EY noted “changes to the regulatory environment – enacted since the corporate governance scandals at the beginning of the century – have increased the demand for finance expertise on boards.” This undoubtedly includes challenging the CEO on important decisions, so not a job anymore for someone without the guts to go with the brain.
3. The CFO’s other relationships will strengthen and their visibility will follow
Areas like marketing have become increasingly dominated by numbers. Advances in tracking marketing activity, particularly through social media, have brought the two functions closer together. Recruitment is another area where the CFO might be able to make positive changes to spend and quality by applying scrutiny. The demand for data both internally and externally means CFOs may build an increasingly public profile. A company that has a media-savvy CFO can create the external impression of a business run by someone with a strong handle on financial performance.
4. The CFO will increasingly be a strategist
Finance is undergoing significant disruption at the hands of technology. This will have a greater influence on strategy than ever before, so the CFO needs to have a strategic view. Risk is being managed in a more scientific than speculative way and collaboration with other departments that are becoming increasingly analytical means the person most likely to have a grip on how all of this impacts the future is the CFO.
5. CFOs will need to be more rounded
As this article has outlined, far from being a bean counter, the CFO needs to hold a far greater range of skills. Aspiring CFOs might want to spend time in operations, marketing or HR to improve their understanding of critical functions. The ‘grey man’ stereotype will be truly consigned to history as the most successful CFOs of the next decade will be all-rounders, further strengthening their claims to make the step up to CEO.