Like many positions in corporate finance, the role of chief financial officer (CFO) is facing new pressures in a climate of innovation and novel challenges, from cybersecurity to geopolitical events. It’s a shift that’s been happening for years.
However, as the market looks ahead to 2019, corporate finance leaders will continue to face even more, newer hurdles to meet the demand for strategic leadership within the enterprise.
“The CFO role has evolved over the last several years, from accountant to business partner to strategic advisor across the entire enterprise, becoming the economic guardian of planned outcomes for digital investments,” explained Steve Culp, senior managing director at Accenture, according to a recent Forbes report.
Accenture is one of a few firms that have surveyed chief financial officers about their approach to the enterprise in the context of changing expectations and pressures. According to Accenture, CFOs are morphing into “digital stewards,” providing guidance for the enterprise’s cloud and digital transformations — within finance functions and beyond.
However, separate analysis has suggested some CFOs are struggling to embrace this role.
“While more and more organizations are looking at data as a strategic asset, there are still many that, unfortunately, have further to go before they can execute on that strategy,” said Dana Bober, Ernst & Young (EY) Americas financial accounting advisory services leader, in a recent EY report, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) last month.
According to EY’s survey of more than 1,000 CFOs at large enterprises around the world, these professionals said there is a range of internal barriers to digital transformation, and it’s holding the CFO back from becoming the “digital steward” that Accenture researchers have said they need to become.
“We need to embrace the digital opportunities,” said Laurent Martinez, CFO of Alstom, in an interview with the WSJ, which noted the company’s recent efforts to experiment with accounting and payments automation.
In an earlier interview with the publication, Guillaume Texier, CFO of the French building materials manufacturer Compagnie de Saint-Gobain, said many tasks must be automated, particularly the highly repetitive and mundane processes.
“It does not make sense to pay a human to do that,” Texier said. “The next step is to get rid of repetitive tasks that are not adding value.”
Below, PYMNTS looks at some of the latest research from Accenture and EY, exploring how CFOs address the opportunities and challenges of their firms’ digital transformations.
Eighty-one percent of CFOs agreed that identifying ways to add value to the enterprise is a responsibility, with 77 percent saying they are also responsible for driving operational transformation across their companies, Accenture’s survey found. Accenture Strategy’s Senior Managing Director Dr. Christian Campagna said the data reflects CFOs’ need to become more familiar with new technologies, and “the CFOs who step up” to that responsibility “will be the true guardians of the enterprise.”
Seventy-seven percent of CFOs said they are driving digital technology adoption, Accenture found. The same percentage also said they are actively exploring how innovative technologies might be able to add value across the enterprise, pointing to the CFO’s role of introducing technology that can impact business processes outside of finance.
Sixty-three percent of CFOs said their teams are resisting digital innovation, according to EY research of CFOs across 25 different countries. The report pointed to one of the biggest hurdles for CFOs to embrace in their new role as digitization leader: convincing other employees of the importance of adopting new technologies.
Fifty-four percent of CFOs and financial controllers pointed to concerns about data security as the biggest technology adoption hurdle, EY noted, adding that this concern is a major barrier to implementing new technologies within corporate finance and reporting processes. CFOs acknowledged the potential in key data management and analytics technologies, with these professionals pointing to artificial intelligence (AI) as the tool most likely to impact their firms’ ability to gain insight through data analytics — followed by automation and blockchain.