During the past seven years of intense volatility, many companies called on the CFO to take on an expanded role. It was one that looked beyond pure finance, accounting, and compliance and accepted a new level of responsibility for strategic planning, business transformation, and evaluating and prioritizing company investments.
Perhaps not surprisingly, organizations that were quick to embrace the new role of the CFO are now in a stronger position to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges that lie ahead.
This concept is one of the key issues examined in a recent Accenture study called “The CFO as Architect of Business Value,” in which we surveyed more than 600 senior finance professionals across 10 industries. The very clear conclusion: high performance businesses — defined as having above-average organizational growth, profitability, longevity and consistency of superior performance, and positioning for the future — are notably more likely to have CFOs whose influence in key strategic activities has grown over the past several years.
The link between increased strategic engagement of the CFO and higher levels of performance across the enterprise is not a mere coincidence. High performance businesses benefit from a CFO who takes a broader business focus and a holistic view of the organization.
But how can lower performers get up to speed? We have outlined five key imperatives that can help CFOs channel the success of their high performance counterparts and define their expanded role.
As companies pivot to growth, CFOs must develop a master strategy that aligns a wide range of business needs, determines how to prioritize scarce resources, and evaluates potential risks.
Because these strategic choices are expected to become increasingly granular as companies expand across products, services, and regions, it is essential that the CFO takes a holistic view of the organization and ensures that objectives align closely with those of the CEO and other C-suite players. And that means collaborating across functions and making sure that all strategies are aligned and optimized.
Transform Operating Models
Today’s companies are in a constant search for true value-added services, while also ensuring the agility and flexibility to scale up or down in response to volatile demand. In many cases, organizations will require a more robust M&A platform as inorganic growth becomes increasingly important.
Indeed, companies are being confronted with very different requirements, making a flexible operating model especially critical. As the “Architect of Business Value,” it is up to the CFO to ensure that the company’s operating model continually evolves in a way that delivers value to the business.
Manage and Measure Performance
The current business landscape requires CFOs to be much more forward-looking. They must track business indicators earlier in the cycle, take a holistic view of performance, and analyze financial outcomes both in terms of decisions taken within the enterprise, and in response to changes in the broader external market.
Successful CFOs must ensure that business choices make economic sense — when a decision is made, and as it is implemented for years to come.
Any organization that wants to grow needs to invest in digital technologies, whether it is cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS), big data and/or analytics, mobility, or social media. CFOs are expected to have a view on the ROI that can be achieved from such investments, and are developing a robust framework for evaluating and prioritizing these items.
They are also leveraging their insights into the vast quantity and variety of data that digital drives to make sure that they get maximum value from purchases.
Develop Advanced Finance Capabilities
Much is expected of today’s CFOs — but their financial skills remain core. The new research shows that CFOs at high-performance businesses are already more actively engaged in providing the insightful analytics that organizations need.
In the future, however, the finance function will require much more diverse types of talent — from expertise in particular geographies or industries, through the ability to communicate effectively and collaboratively across regions, to specialized knowledge of specific business processes, pricing, and trade promotion among them.
Following the economic crisis, many CFOs have taken the right steps to not only prepare their organization to advance in today’s business environment, but also to ensure that their role within the organization expands. Our study shows evidence of a stronger finance function and CFO — and for those organizations that embrace the key imperatives, their influence will only continue to grow for years to come.
Christian Campagna is managing director for CFO & Enterprise Value within Accenture Strategy. His role focuses on solving CFOs’ challenges and helping them develop strategies to transform the finance function and positively influence their broader organizations.