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Better, faster, stronger: The CFO’s role in the modern business

Mark Nittler, vice-president, Workday

By Mark Nittler*

The role of the CFO is changing. It is no longer about just numbers and reporting, as more CEOs demand a focus on growth, strategy and quality of operations stretching across all aspects of the business. So what are the key business priorities that will further impact the role of CFOs and their future strategies?

Higher growth
The KPMG Global CEO Outlook survey recently identified growth as the top priority for CEOs over the next three years, which has a direct impact on the role of the CFO. They are now expected to drive growth strategies across the organisation, namely because they have a view into every corner of the business from both a business and financial perspective.

CEOs are looking to CFOs to help them drive multiple growth strategies across the organisation, from acquisitions to geographic expansion and organic growth, all of which are significant strategies for CEOs, according to KPMG. This will be challenging for CFOs given the intricacies of the modern business, with the market constantly disrupted by new business models, competition for talent and changing consumer behaviour.

Regulation
Organisations today are highly focused on the regulatory environment. That’s why CEOs rely on the CFO to ensure the business can adapt to changing regulations while also getting as much value for the business as possible. CFOs have the ability to look beyond compliance and consider how regulatory changes can be a benefit to the business, providing new insights or streamlining processes. 

KPMG’s report, The View from the Top, has the following advice for CFOs when it comes to regulations: “The key is to anticipate, innovate and adopt the right mindset to turn this ‘burden’ into a competitive advantage.”

Data and insights
It is no longer enough to look at historical data to support business planning and inform decisions. Organisations today are demanding more real-time analysis from the finance team in order to drive instant and accurate decision-making. CEOs rely on the CFO to provide the relevant data and insights to support functional leaders across the business, also expecting them to advise on the best strategy.

The CFO and the finance organisation now need to focus on analysis and strategy as opposed to processing transactions. To do this effectively, they need to have a well-rounded and current view of the business, for example understanding how financial and HR data can impact each other. Only then will they have the insight they need to make the right decisions and plan for the business successfully. 

Constant innovation
One in three CEOs now cite experience with transformation as one of the most important attributes for a CFO, according to KPMG. This is down to the great pressure on CEOs to keep the business relevant, and is the reason they are looking to the CFO to help them with the continual need to change and innovate.

Companies are being forced to evaluate their operating models on a constant basis to stay competitive, and are being impacted by change from many different directions – from regulations to changing consumer demands and new technologies. This can also be broken down on a vertical level, such as the effect of mobile on the retail industry or connectivity in automotive companies.

This constant change is a great chance for companies to innovate, stay relevant and grow. The CFO can help on this journey by identifying the best opportunities for growth and providing the insights to inform the decision-making process. The finance function also needs to support new strategies, such as an acquisition or geographic expansion, by adapting quickly to change and in turn ensuring the success of the business.

*Mark Nittler is vice-president at Workday

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