The following is an excerpt by Acceleration Economy Analyst, Bob Evans which appeared in the Future Office of the CFO edition of the Acceleration Economy Journal. The September 2021 issue addressed the role executives play in technology investments, how automation architecture impacts business processes, developing partnerships for optimal business continuity, cybersecurity and risk mitigations, the importance of deep analytical skills, and much more.
While bookkeeping, budgeting, and accounting have been a fixture within businesses for centuries, the CFO position has been around for only about 60 years. And here in 2021, I would suggest that the CFO function is undergoing the most dramatic and profound changes in its history.
Of course, CFOs will continue to hold primary responsibility for financial operations. The upheaval is coming in the entirely new form, shape, and scope of “financial operations” in today’s high-speed global economy that is driven by consumers, shaped by events close at hand and far away, and increasingly powered by data, AI, and advanced analytics.
CFOs will need to consider where the world is heading, what drives customer behavior, how data can be used to trigger new revenue streams, and how can the business move at the speed of its customers. They have tremendous opportunities to move beyond the vital and essential but nevertheless siloed confines of the accounting world and become indispensable business leaders with deep financial acumen.
And while there are no doubt other variations on this theme, here are the Four Faces of the Modern CFO:
1. Data Champion
No other C-level leader has as much insight into the end-to-end workings of an enterprise as the CFO. But typically that insight is constrained by or even limited by a total focus on financial data. In today’s world, that’s still essential but it’s no longer enough.
As companies need to move faster than ever before and more intelligently than ever before, the CFO has to become the Data Champion, creating new ways of intermingling and fusing and analyzing data about customer sentiment, new buying patterns, global economic trends, recruiting and hiring developments, the evolving dynamics of partner ecosystems, and rapidly fluctuating demographic data.
Companies that don’t look at the future in these ways will be blindsided—and who better than the CFO to put those into the proper business context for the entire enterprise?
2. Chief Acceleration Officer
No, I’m not suggesting this as a formal title, but rather as an aspirational one. In today’s tumultuous world, companies must be able to move as fast as the world around them, adapting to new consumer preferences, driving new marketplace approaches, and exploring new business opportunities at speeds never before possible.
If a CFO can lead a company-wide initiative to get things moving not only more rapidly but more intelligently and with more insight into the desired outcomes, he or she will create enormous new value not only within and across the company but also for partners, customers, and other stakeholders.
3. Customer Evangelist
I’ve always blanched at the question, “So in your company, who owns the customer?” I get the point, but the point always seemed rather dull—can only a salesperson “own” a customer? Because that means that the relationship is centered purely on a transaction.
What about the product designers who craft the goods and services those customers love?
What about the customer-service people who deal with thorny issues in an elegant way that boosts customer loyalty?
What about the software engineers who create new and better ways for customers to co-create what they want and need with your product-development teams?
Armed with deep financial insights plus a strong sense of how the entire organization works from one end to the other, the CFO can rebuild the company’s processes to map to what customers truly want and need, which almost always goes far beyond a simple transaction.
4. Culture Shaper
I doubt too many CFOs today see themselves or are seen by others as a culture champion—and perhaps some simply don’t have the personality or mindset to fully embrace that role. But just look at some of the possibilities outlined above, extending from product design to development to service and support and talent: shouldn’t a company’s financial approach and philosophy and behavior be able to capture and reflect that excitement and those opportunities?
Shouldn’t the Future Office of the CFO become a powerful force for projecting the company’s vision, its culture, and its aspirations across the entire organization and outwardly to partners and customers?
The Acceleration Economy presents every company and every CXO with unbounded opportunities to do more, contribute more, and inspire more. For those CFOs who wish to keep the focus on budgets and expense reports, well, the marketplace will no doubt provide some very clear and unambiguous feedback.
But for those who wish to embrace the Four Faces of the Modern CFO, you can expect to experience the full range of dynamic opportunities being unleashed by the Acceleration Economy.