ACFO has historically been envisioned as “the chief numbers person.” But that role has expanded into areas not even imaginable 10 years ago, and those not evolving their skillsets risk being left behind. CFOs are now expected to be C-suite/board advisors, giving accurate, strategic recommendations based on a broad array of data and advanced analytics. They need mastery over technology systems and a welltrained and managed finance staff armed with skills that reflect the business’s current and future needs. In short, the CFO is not only an editor of the organization’s story, s/he must be a storyteller as well.
EVOLUTION OF THE CFO
For decades, CFOs were technical accounting experts who viewed the business through the owner’s lens. Now CFOs have a critical strategic role as the collector and interpreter of data from across the company, which means they must touch all aspects of the business – from operations to sales to production and beyond. A CFO/advisor also needs a good bedside manner and strong presence in the boardroom and with management. With skills that represent modern needs and reflect their company’s complexity and industry, today’s CFO needs talents that fall into several buckets:
STRONG PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES
Upgraded CFOs subscribe to a “get-better culture” where continuous improvement is always top of mind. They promote a collaborative and transparent culture, display emotional intelligence and are good listeners. Being able to hire, develop, train and lead talent is also a necessity in today’s marketplace. Successfully managing the finance function at the highest level is not just based on skills but is a product of the people around them.
Successful CFOs need to master the technology that makes their company and industry work. Finance and data collection are directly affected by tools like machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data and advanced analytics. A Forbes‘s article mentions that leveraging AI means “CFOs can spend more time focused on the organization’s future, analyzing potential growth strategies or proactively engaging in business development.” CFOs must also be conversant with topics such as the cloud, peer learning, communication tools and systems integration.
A good enterprise financial planning (ERP) system is a building block for getting the right data at the right time. We had a client investing a significant amount of money on a system that had issues related to implementation. The project was beyond the abilities of their prior CFO. As an advisor, we provided guidance on hiring an experienced and forward-thinking CFO and assisted them by bringing in a third party to reevaluate the ERP system implementation and in general provide more consultative input to the company. This led to better information to make decisions and helped them #BeMore as they look towards the future.
ADVANCED DATA ANALYSIS SKILLS
The CFO has a real opportunity to create a structure where the right data is identified and flows into a format that provides value-add analytics. Modern CFOs should utilizes data analytics to be descriptive (determining what happened), predictive (what is likely to happen) or even prescriptive (specify the actions necessary to achieve predicted outcomes).
Great CFOs exercise their business expertise. They stay current with news in their industry and the accounting profession so they can understand and anticipate external factors and trends. By seeing the bigger picture, moving beyond the finance function and looking at other departments, they are able to get a deeper understanding of the business. They are always evaluating systems and processes (e.g., ERP, accounting, data management) to make sure the company has the right information to extract the right key performance indicators (KPIs). This entrepreneurial mindset allows them to be an early warning detection system of potential issues and gives them the chance to provide efficiency throughout the organization.
While we also offer typical accounting services, GHJ often works with companies to provide strategic consulting. When leading strategy sessions to identifying potential risks and areas of interest to position clients for future success, we have often been asked to help clients upgrade/ replace their CFOs. The financial world is moving at a fast pace, and CFOs not adding significant value may become obsolete. Having clear and transparent financials and good financial systems and processes is very attractive to buyers and investors, and a strategic CFO is key to that. Modern CFOs must have the skills and technology expertise to tell a company’s story. It is a tall order, but the current state of the industry will only get more complex as we look to the future.
Anant Patel, Partner with Green Hasson Janks, has over 23 years of public accounting experience and leads both the Firm’s Consulting Practice and Transaction Advisory Practice and is a member of the Executive Committee for GHJ. Anant is the Global Chair of the HLB International’s (GHJ’s world-wide accounting network) Transaction Advisory Group.
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