The Evolving Role of The CFO
CFO Central

The Evolving Role of The CFO

By Art Wittmann, Industry Research

CFOs today are tasked with a lot more than just ensuring that bills are paid and that the company has the funds it needs to meet its near term goals. If there’s a constant in the role that CFOs play in their organizations, it is and always has been managing to reality.

CEOs have ambitions. Product managers have goals. Sales teams want to make promises to customers. Marketers want to make sure that every potential customer knows what the company can do. No company can afford to do everything it dreams of, so the CFO sits in the center of it all to guide what the organization can afford and help steer the course toward profits.

What that entails, however, is constantly evolving.

Our recent survey finds that CFOs in small and midsize businesses are not only doing the traditional CFO job, they’re also evaluating technology, researching new opportunities and partnerships, finding talent, assessing risks and making sure that they and their management team have access to timely data to support decisions. These and other functions are newer to the job, and it’s those added responsibilities that concern CFOs most--even beyond maintaining cash flow.

We surveyed 166 CFOs across 23 industries, 77% from businesses with less than 500 employees and 23% with more, to learn how their job is changing and how they view their priorities. Their biggest job concern: managing their myriad and evolving responsibilities.

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What is your biggest challenge as CFO?

The new functions in the CFO job stem directly from the need to keep cash flowing, and it often calls for bringing technology to bear to do things like automating invoicing and collecting better data to provide better visibility into business realities. In many ways, CFOs in smaller and midsize businesses are filling needs that were strictly the domain of larger enterprises. Increased requirements for real-time data and concerns over cybersecurity have dominated big companies for a while now, but businesses of all sizes are no longer immune, if they ever were.

In larger companies, many of the tasks that fall to CFOs in smaller companies are spread throughout the C-suite. Concerns like data and cyber security, managing system and data integration, filling talent needs and adopting new technology are all part of what CFOs need to know about, but in smaller companies direct responsibility for these issues often falls to the CFO.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the role the CFO plays in the adoption of the latest technologies. However, where larger enterprises can put teams onto understanding the best use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the Internet of Things or Blockchain, smaller businesses often simply have to wait until these technologies have been reduced to common practice and incorporated into larger industry-specific technologies.

Leveraging in the next 1-3 years?

That leaves almost half of respondents with no plans to implement the most talked about advanced technologies over the next three years. Instead, they tend to focus on technology acquisition on advancing their department’s automation by investing in accounting and finance software, according to the data.

Finance Department change in the next 5 years?

It’s high time, too, as respondents still report that spreadsheets are the main tool of their trade. In the end, our study reveals that pragmatic nature of the CFO. They’ve got their fingers in most parts of the business, because not doing so leads to incomplete risk analysis. They’re increasingly concerned with current and correct data across the business, because visibility through data analysis is the advantage many smaller businesses lack.

Whether or not the requirements of the job outstrip the hours in the day isn’t certain. What is certain is that the skillset for the job of CFO is changing to encompass far more than just finance, and that alone is enough to account for the sense of anxiety and being overwhelmed that came through in our survey.


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