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Why being a CFO is not just about the numbers anymore
Mon, 24th Apr 2023

“I want to be a CFO” isn’t something you’ll usually hear from most five-year-olds when you ask what they want to be when they grow up.

A doctor. A musician. A movie star. Maybe even a veterinarian. It’s only when they enter college or university that you’ll hear a few say they’re interested in going into accounting.

But “I want to be a finance major and get an MBA” — not to mention becoming a Chief Financial Officer — still isn’t in many young people’s vocabulary.

Yet, when they start setting their sights on an executive career, some will realise that getting a degree in accounting, finance, or business administration (or some combination of these) is a common path to the executive position of CFO.

As most people dream of reaching such a pinnacle early in their careers, a finance-related education is the right path to get there.

But the role of the CFO is constantly changing. While monitoring and ensuring a company’s financial health are still critical responsibilities of the job, in today’s digital-first world, it’s not just about the numbers anymore.

CFO or CIO? The lines are blurring

Today’s companies face challenges such as inflation, supply chain disruption, digital transformation and automation, and staffing shortages — all of which ultimately affect the bottom line.

CFOs are therefore seeking initiatives to increase the efficiency of existing resources, prevent disruption in procurement, and ensure production and delivery. It’s why more and more CFOs are looking towards technology breakthroughs such as automation and AI. In fact, with tech adoption showing no signs of slowing down, CFOs are increasingly becoming involved in traditional IT and CIO-level decision-making.

Although that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Traditionally, CFOs and finance departments had to manage company budgets, forecasts, accounts payables (AP) and accounts receivables (AR), reporting, and compliance. Nowadays, supporting these activities requires infrastructure, hardware, and software, and the CFO is now responsible for ensuring the availability of the technology that supports the financial aspects of the business.

And they’re becoming the real decision-makers for purchasing such assets, too. 61% of CFOs said they have cast the deciding vote during a technology selection process, according to Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey.

Dabbling in domains previously reserved for the IT team

Today’s CFO would naturally be involved in technology to automate manual processes in the finance and accounting departments. Automating the AR and AP processes saves a company a tonne of time and manual effort, meaning those departments can use existing staff for more strategic, value-added, and personally fulfilling tasks.

But it’s not just in the finance arena either. CFOs are now championing software that can automate and personalise marketing campaigns as well as streamline the sales process with self-service tools to boost leads and sales closures.

For customers, automated self-service tools such as online portals and apps give users a sense of control and autonomy, saving customer service reps for those “tough” cases that need hands-on attention.

More sales, more satisfied customers, and more retention result in a better bottom line. So while the IT team may still deploy and maintain such systems, it’s obvious why CFOs are pivotal in championing and approving the purchase of these technologies.

CFOs are even pushing their teams of representatives from across the business to evaluate data analytics and business intelligence tools. Such tools will allow them to monitor KPIs on contracts, sales, revenues, expenses, and customer behaviours like churn and sentiment in unrivalled detail. Rather than relying on their intuition, these metrics lead to a more holistic financial picture to make better business decisions, driven and supported by data.

What are the savviest CFOs looking to technology to address next? More and better ways to use the latest technologies like automation, machine learning, AI, and blockchain to improve the accuracy, consistency, security, privacy, regulatory compliance, and integrity of more than the company’s data.

Technology that protects its transactions, intellectual property, and other digital assets against a myriad of threats - including but not limited to human error and inefficiency, economic disruptions, cybercrime, and data breaches - is also at the top of the CFO’s wish list. After all, every department and technology mentioned here — and there are many more — can, and eventually will, impact the organisation’s financial health.

Will we recognise the CFO of the future?

Will the ebb and flow of the CFO role spell the demise of the CIO — or, for that matter, the CTO, CISO, CDO, or any other position in the C-suite? Is the CFO about to take over the whole show?

Of course not. It’s simply that the need to drive efficiency across many areas of the business is intertwined with the company’s financial goals — and thus necessarily requires the CFOs involvement, oversight, and approval.

Ensuring operational integrity and continuity, information security, data privacy compliance security, and dozens of other technology-related functions of a large company require knowledge, education, and experience that most CFOs do not have.

It is simply not in their wheelhouse, nor can they focus all their time and energy outside the areas of finance. They must, however, learn enough to guide the important decisions on how technology should be procured and applied to move the company toward its goals.

So, if a teen or young adult asks your advice on what to study so they can one day land the position of CFO at a Fortune-500 company, consider this: You might suggest a few tech courses to go with all those accounting and finance classes. Believe me, they’ll soon come in handy.