The role of the CFO is in flux. While his or her chief concern remains the financial health of the organization, gone are the days where the CFO works only with numbers. And while accounting is still a core competency for the CFO, the role has gradually broadened to include many more skills, including those that once belonged to the COO, a role seen less and less in major organizations.
"The modern CFO has publicly emerged as not only a financial leader, but also a business leader," wrote Sergio Monsalve of Norwest Venture Partners in a 2015 article for TechCrunch "She is not just a number cruncher, but also a power player in the C-suite. No longer taking a back seat in business discussions, the modern CFO acts as a key driver for evaluating strategic opportunities."
Data-Driven Decision Support
Because of shortened product life cycles and heightened competitive pressure, business leaders are increasingly called upon to formulate and defend business models. According to Deloitte's Greg Dickinson, there are "growing demands on finance to help their companies translate analysis into decision-making insights."
Almost parallel to that trend, seismic shifts in computerization have increased the volume and variety of data available to CFOs. A need for newer, deeper CFO skills, Deloitte says, is also driving change.
But those changes won't occur overnight. According to one ACCA/IMA report, 40 percent of CFOs began their careers in public accounting firms, many beginning in audit, a position at the tail end of business strategy. That same report cites insight and analytics as skills essential for CFO career planning. "How organizations regress, correlate and extrapolate data to drive better decision making is the next 'big opportunity' for tomorrow's finance team as data grows and the multiplicity of information presents new challenges to business decision making," according to the report's author Jason Bramwell.
Analytics and Operational Intelligence
One trend that began to engage CFOs in strategic areas once thought separate from finance was business intelligence (BI). Begun more than a dozen years ago, BI repositories grew to include both financial and operational data. More recently, financial and operational data are uniting under the mantle of operational intelligence (OI).
Attention to OI allows CFOs to adopt more customer-centric frameworks for measuring organizational performance. In addition, OI allows for a more integrated approach to compliance alongside other business processes.
Apriso, specializing in manufacturing improvement, recommends measuring Return on Assets (RoA) to spur faster, smarter design of smart products. They note, "The requirements of the modern CFO have changed. ... They must now understand their business from end-to-end, well beyond financial statements."
Data velocity, a core feature of big data, is also driving shifts in the role of the CFO. Once the role of the CFO was mainly to ensure the timely and proper statements of financial position at the end of official accounting periods — usually four-week intervals. Apriso and others working to engage CFOs in a full range of business processes argue that this flavor of passive reporting is too slow.
The role of the CFO, once focused purely on finance and compliance, now encompasses all aspects of business, including operations. While that trend has been slow to catch on in the past, it's gaining momentum.