The past few years have been a period of fundamental change and digital transformation.
And as the business landscape continues to shift, executive leadership teams are themselves being transformed as leaders proactively adapt their departmental workflows, responsibilities and goals to meet ongoing macro challenges.
“If you go back three years, it was growth at all costs and deploy capital as fast as possible. Now, you’re still allocating capital but you have to do so with a very strict eye on returns of that capital. Setting thresholds of what might be appropriate levels of return has become paramount,” Bellini said.
The shift in focus to adopting and prioritizing a more disciplined approach reflects the changing dynamics of the market, and underscores how finance departments have had to evolve to control what is controllable for their organizations.
“We’re talking about interest rates that are very elevated, maybe not versus history, but certainly versus what we’ve all become accustomed to for the last 10 or so years since the great financial crisis. We can invest our cash at higher levels. That’s a positive, but at the same time we also must be much more mindful of making sure we’re protecting our profit streams from an inflationary perspective,” Bellini explained.
“I think the discipline we’ve all had to relearn over the last few years has been a helpful one,” she said.
The evolving economic landscape demands a comprehensive understanding of macro forces coupled with an agile adaptability from CFOs to ensure success, and Bellini said that crucial to any decision-making process is the importance of close alignment with the executive leadership team (ELT).
“If senior leaders don’t have the mutual respect of each other, the organization isn’t going to be able to drive what it needs to do,” she said. “If the ELT is communicating and collaborating, it makes everyone’s job a lot easier.”
This close alignment enables CFOs to effectively navigate the changing landscape and fulfill their broader responsibilities beyond financial matters, particularly as executives and their companies often find themselves facing near-daily decisions that require a delicate balance of emotional intelligence, strategic thinking and the ability to assess risks.
That’s why, in today’s economic environment, Bellini emphasized the importance of maintaining an open-minded and agile approach and noted that “failing fast isn’t a bad thing.”
She firmly believes that things are never as good or as bad as they may initially seem. This mindset has guided her in leading her finance team to fund projects that generate the highest returns while also encouraging them to fail fast if something isn’t working out.
“If there is an area or a product that we’re working on that isn’t meeting its goals, it’s important to ask yourself if you want to keep doubling down on it or if it might be better to funnel that spend somewhere where the organization is seeing positive momentum,” Bellini said.
A seasoned veteran of the technology industry herself, Bellini had a clear-eyed take on what future innovations can hold for enterprise transformations.
“AI [artificial intelligence] is going to be an imperative for every company, and what you do with AI is what will differentiate your products. Being able to really understand the end market that you’re going after and being able to think about how technology could make it look better and rewrite the rules for digital transformation in different industries will be crucial,” she said.
“Functionally, it might get rid of a lot of the manual work people don’t want to do anyway, and extract them up to a level where they can do more things that have a direct impact on the business,” she added.
The impact of AI in the accounting and finance office is sure to be far-reaching, as it builds on already-here integrations of predictive capabilities, machine learning and automation across workflows.
Still, CFOs can’t go around investing in every new technology just because it’s new and exciting. But as the role of the CFO evolves, embracing technology and leveraging its power will be crucial in driving success and staying ahead in an increasingly digital world.
“It is about what systems does the organization have now, what are their limitations, and where might new systems improve on that. It’s crucial to meet with the vendor and understand their product, its pain points today, and where their road map can take us beyond what we are currently expecting. You need to be getting something out of it continually, not just for a year or two, whether that is more agility, more productivity, more transparency and visibility, and so on,” Bellini said.
As for what the InvestCloud leader sees the future holding for the CFO role?
“It’s about pace of play and moving real-life, real-time information closer to the people that need to make decisions, instead of this data being siloed. This will elevate the pace of play and should yield better business outcomes — and this will be incremental, it won’t be revolutionary, but if you compound incremental over time, it adds up to a lot,” Bellini said.