The role of the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) throughout this millennium has changed considerably. Today, their public face is one of the most recognizable to companies.
The transformation that the expectations of the CFO's role have undergone stems from those who, in this position, have adopted issues of public interest as banners. There is the example of Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet, who while she is in charge of putting the numbers of the Google subsidiary in order, is also an active voice in the fight against breast cancer.
Why these behind-the-scenes changes are not as visible - more so than to the financial community - warrant describing them in-depth, from a holistic perspective of their position in relation to the rest of the C-Suite (CEO, COO, CIO, among others), through their day-to-day roles, to key trends and skills for 2022.
With this in mind, we developed this blog.
The main function of a Chief Financial Officer is to optimize the use of a company's financial resources. This involves documenting and reporting resources, managing liquidity, and improving return on investment.
But before describing how the day-to-day operation of these functions unfolds, let's understand the CFO's role on a broader spectrum: that of his or her relationship with other C-level executives.
Although it is not a rule set in stone, some testimonies indicate that for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) the CFO is his or her second in command. In other words, the person who takes the lead before the public and, in particular, investors.
It is a key executive position that can clearly articulate and communicate the company's purpose. Hence, it is increasingly common to see the CFO taking on the role of spokesperson, as they understand how certain decisions will impact the health of the business.
In addition, compared to the rest of the C-Suite - Operations (COO), Information (CIO), Legal (CLO), Human Resources (CHRO or CPO), among others - the CFO has an advisory role.
First, an obvious point: all of these departments' initiatives have implications on the company's finances. No marketing, talent attraction, or fundraising campaign can succeed without resources.
Another important point is that tax and legal matters are closely linked in the compliance frameworks of each company.
Given the need to keep up with the dynamic pace of new companies, organizational models, and market demands, the role of the modern CFO requires constant movement.
The aforementioned optimization of the use of a company's financial resources can be rephrased to describe his role as the person in charge of a company's financial security.
How exactly does he do this? The key triad consists of controllership, treasury, and strategy and forecasting.
This is usually the function with which we immediately associate the CFO: the person in charge of overseeing that the company's money goes where it should, as well as accounting for expenditures.
He or she is in charge of directing control operations. He or she is responsible for the team that prepares reports and analyzes the organization's financial information.
In other words, the CFO obtains from the controller's office the information with which he/she reports to the CEO and the board of investors on the financial direction of the company.
The CFO must ensure that the company meets its financial commitments. To do so, he or she must devise efficient cash flow management strategies.
Typically, these duties are carried out by leading groups of specialists in balancing budgets and working capital. Accounts payable and receivable, as well as debt and investment management, pass through the CFO's screen.
Every company has specific financial needs that are determined by the stage of development it is in. And always, no matter the size of the company, the CFO will be in charge of designing plans and strategies to obtain the highest possible return on investment (ROI).
This is the task for which the financial planning and analysis units generate insights, resulting from the contrast between ROI, future expectations, and the budget spent during each period.
The CFO must clearly communicate these insights (which are often complex due to their technical level), so his leadership skills are implicit to his overall function.
Finally, while these three are the most general areas. Going into the detail of what each CFO does requires a case-by-case analysis.
Just as they can negotiate with suppliers, they could also be shapers of organizational culture. Hence the need to understand their role today from a holistic point of view.
Equal parts financial strategist and company spokesperson, as well as leader and resource watchdog.
As business needs change, the facets of today's CFO are diversifying. However, as a common thread, it is possible to identify key skills and trends in 2022.
In the survey that Gartner publishes each year, where it asks nearly 250 finance leaders where they will invest their time and effort, there is a clear trend: they will take on the role as a change agent in the digital transition of companies.
As it becomes evident in the PRIORITIES quadrant (top right), the activities that CFOs will be focused on have to do with driving digital initiatives.
These efforts have the purpose of creating the foundations for an autonomous future in finance. That is, one that involves technologies such as artificial intelligence to optimize operations and reduce the need for human intervention.
CFOs surveyed want to continue to develop digital skills on par with all of their finance functions in companies.
Starting training of this scale can seem daunting, especially if the team is not closely shadowed.
It is worth considering the profile of these groups: they are almost always specialists with a high level of technical and/or academic skills, so setting them a challenge to build from scratch requires leadership.
Therefore, the role of the CFO in scaling digital skills will be more that of a facilitator and leader, able to create understanding with other areas of the company that can contribute technical knowledge.
The CFO will have to assume a proactive role that will be key to finding the right support for his team.
In a corporate context where the digital prevails, it is essential to strengthening critical thinking. Not all solutions are infallible and will not overcome all challenges on their own.
In finance, where Big Data and Analytics have a wide reach, it is very important for CFOs to identify their true scope.
This is not to say that BD&A does not offer goodness (51% of respondents are confident that they will eventually be able to make decisions based on Big Data). The key is to move forward with leaden feet and a healthy amount of skepticism.
So, we have seen that today's CFO is not only expected to service the accounts of the business. Fulfilling his role requires him to generate input into the direction of the company.
Whether leading changes or accompanying the upskill & reskill process of his team, or assuming a leading role as the face of the company, the space for mediating these capabilities is in his participation in strategic planning.
According to a series of recommendations from Deloitte, in his or her role as strategist, the CFO is involved in:
Objectives and aspirations of the company.
With which products and/or services the company can compete and in which markets it is more favorable for it to do so.
What are the financial differentiators that can be a competitive advantage for the company.
What capabilities are required to sustain these advantages in the long term?
What systems can be used to implement the strategic plan.
The biggest challenge, when CFOs are involved at this level, is to place each effort in the particular context of each company. Taking on this role, beyond accounts and balance sheets, involves having a seat in the war room.
Of course, this is not an easy task, as it requires the CFO to develop the sensitivity to know where and how to reorient the company according to the demands of the context and the organization.
Today's financial leaders are expected to do more than tight budgets or know the tax regulations to which the company is subject.
What defines today's CFO includes, on the one hand, combining functions of spokesperson or representation of the company in the public sphere, as well as assuming a leadership position not only with their direct team, but also with the rest of the units.
Their experience and knowledge of the market and foreign financial movements matter as much as their willingness to raise their hand in the board room.
Long gone are the days when finance managers were pictured wearing a visor, doing math with a calculator in a semi-dark office, surrounded by thousands of papers and ledgers, only perhaps in a nostalgic corner.