There are market forces at work threatening the job of the chief financial officer, and we’re not just talking about the role automation and robots can play in replacing human employees. A new generation is taking the lead at U.S. corporations, and with new management, comes demand for younger (read: cheaper) talent.
That’s according to Jerry Mills, professional CFO and founder of B2B CFO. The firm looks to provide companies with CFOs when necessary, as an on-demand professional can often be more affordable than a full-time employee.
In a recent conversation with PYMNTS, Mills explained that, 30 years ago and still today, the CFO is not immune to surviving business owners’ need for affordable labor.
“I saw a lot of CFO-type people lose their job when they got in their late-40s and 50s,” the executive said, describing the early years of his career. “I felt it was a shame. These are highly qualified people with a quarter century of experience, and they were losing their jobs.”
The causation behind these job losses is a timeless one, he continued: saving money.
“Age discrimination is illegal, but it’s alive and well in the U.S.,” he said. “Employers, entrepreneurs and business owners will always go to the lowest dollar amount. So, what happens is: These highly qualified CFOs go into a company, and maybe a year and a half later, they fixed most of the major problems that were wrong when they got fired.”
Whether it’s a new generation of ownership coming into a business or simply an effort to cut costs, once a CFO has entered a company and done his or her job of getting the firm on the right financial tracks, management will often look to cheaper talent to keep the engine oiled.
“It’s really an interesting phenomenon, and it’s been true over the last 30 years,” said Mills. “The really good CFOs work themselves out of a job.”
There is a way to save the CFO their job and to save a business money, Mills said, and that’s to provide an on-demand CFO. “The market is insatiable for the skillset but not on a full-time basis,” he explained, adding that, naturally, businesses would rather pay less than $100,000 for a 1099 employee than the upwards of $300,000 salaries, plus benefits, paid for a full-time, seasoned CFO.
“You can’t blame the business owner for wanting to save money,” admitted Mills.
But today, that drive to save money has led to another force driving the CFO to extinction that wasn’t as prevalent in decades past, Mills explained.
Automated accounting and cash management technologies are a force to be reckoned with among today’s financial professionals, he said.
“For a lot of CFOs, their departments are being eliminated,” the executive said of the rise in automated solutions within corporate treasury, finance and accounting departments.
“The only way a CFO can do well for a company is if he or she is supervising maybe five to 20 people,” he continued. “Well, through automation, which we see happening today, they have no department. Then, there’s no need for the CFO.”
The fear that automated software will replace human jobs, much like the rise of machines on the assembly line has done, reached far beyond the professional community of the CFO. But chief financial officers do have one thing to their advantage, Mills said: Their position is becoming more strategic for the enterprise overall, if a CFO approaches the position correctly.
“There are actually two types of CFOs: tactical and strategic,” he noted.
The difference between the two is the difference between pushing papers and crunching numbers and guiding a corporation to growth and success.
“Tactical CFOs are the ones who are losing their jobs,” Mills explained. “They represent 70–80 percent of the market. They’re involved in the accounting department in crunching the numbers and doing taxes.”
The fight for corporations to cut costs can mean hiring younger, less experienced staff, and that includes the chief financial officer once the hard work is done. Mills explained that, especially as companies change hands and new owners begin looking to sell the firm, the need for on-demand CFOs has risen, and that can be a good thing for corporate finance professionals that fear getting squeezed out of a company for cheaper labor.
Unfortunately, Mills said he sees the vast majority of the CFO population fall under this “tactical CFO” category, and they’re the ones with the bullseye on their backs, thanks to the modern problem of automated technologies.
Technology may have begun to replace the function of the tactical CFO. Indeed, Mills said he sees this as a massive trend that will continue into the future. But for strategic CFOs, their job is secure.
“Now, the strategic CFO is a totally different person with a different mindset,” said the executive. “It’s somewhat similar in terms of skillset but different in terms of mindset. The strategic CFO isn’t going to go away. They’re going to get more valuable.”