The CFO is more than ever a champion of changing future odds

28 July 2021 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read
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Over the past pandemic-hit year, the spotlight has firmly been on the CFO as organisations seek the resilience to survive the challenging near-term period while successfully positioning themselves for the long-term future. Krishnan Raghunathan from WNS outlines some of the top trends and developments facing CFOs. 

As the world of business hurtles into the post-Covid-19 space, chief financial officers (CFOs) find themselves emerging as key players in a normal that has risen from chaos. Organisations have increasingly turned to them to create resilience for the immediate challenges of liquidity, cost containment and supply continuity, and for a strategic positioning for growth and opportunities ahead. 

Without a doubt, the CFO’s role has leapfrogged with amazing speed from a strategic business leader to a transformational digital architect.

Important areas where CFOs are supporting their organization to navigate challenges

Value creators for future relevance

The findings of our latest Global CFO Survey, conducted in collaboration with Everest Group, reveal what it takes to become a constantly future-ready CFO. In a study covering more than 300 CFOs globally from more than 20 industry sectors, 52 percent of them said that they were re-assessing business strategies factoring in the current environment, and 50 percent maintained that they were driving proactive initiatives to build agile, resilient and digital-first organisations.

Digital adoption featured as a top priority for 49 percent of CFOs – not just to improve productivity, but to enhance overall customer experience as well. 47 percent gave high importance to reviewing compliance and controls for risk mitigation, and an almost equal percentage of respondents (46 percent) cited the need to improve visibility into organisational information as an important objective.

Clearly, CFOs have stepped up to make the leap from being the head of a vital function and a key organisational leader to an even more strategic orchestrator of business transformation. They are looking further ahead to forecast business environments, design strategic actions, orchestrate collaboration across teams and be a pivotal custodian of insights to drive transformational success. 

CFOs further understand the importance of donning multiple hats – as a digital and technology evangelist, as a data arbiter, as a proactive business continuity planner and risk mitigator, and as a transformation leader. 

Factors impacting the new normal business environment

Driving change to power performance

As the champions of changing future odds, what do CFOs believe are essential to build agile, resilient, and digitally enabled organisations? More than half of the CFOs we surveyed felt that it is extremely important to drive transformation initiatives and embed more robust business continuity plans to prepare both the organisation and the finance function for the new normal.

About 53 percent opined that an organisation’s locations strategy needs to be re-evaluated, and capabilities have to be strengthened for hybrid work models. This, they feel, will enable

  • Better access to diverse talent pools
  • Agile and dynamic routing of work for greater efficiency
  • More effective business continuity
  • Reduced cost of operations

CFOs will need to increasingly drive performance-related decisions by leveraging digital tools, and tapping into consumer behaviours. Third-party service providers and shared-services partners have admirably and swiftly accelerated enterprises’ shift from restore and recovery to growth during the pandemic.

Top long-term concerns for CFOs

Our survey found that CFOs are ready to re-imagine operating models where such partnerships will provide strategic collaboration in designing and executing transformation journeys for their organisations. 

As businesses overcome this unprecedented pandemic to move ahead, there is a sobering realisation that this was not the first crisis – and will not be the last either. The CFO holds the exciting responsibility of stepping beyond controllership and protection to envision, enable and execute organisation and technology changes. As future organisational architects, the onus rests on them to unify fragmented operations and legacy systems to make way for digital business models.

More than ever before, CFOs today have the tools to lead businesses through this climate and beyond. To fully realise this potential, they must embody the characteristics of agility, quick decision-making, digital intelligence and resilience. With the future merging into the present in a blink, the CFO needs to combine the boldness of vision with the alacrity of swift and data-driven decision-making and collaborative execution.

About the author: Krishnan Raghunathan is Head Finance and Accounting Services at WNS, an international business process management (BPM) company.