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Why the future for CFOs is no longer just about numbers

In today’s fast-paced business environment, the role of chief financial officers (CFOs) has expanded beyond managing finances to include strategic decision-making, leading digital transformation, and championing sustainability initiatives.

This change reflects an organisation’s need to adapt to rapid technological advancements, shifting market dynamics, and a heightened focus on corporate responsibility. McKinsey’s research highlights this shift, showing a significant increase in CFOs’ involvement in digital projects from 2016 to 2021, emphasising their crucial role in digital transformation efforts globally. (1)  

According to SAP Concur’s recent CFO Insights report, 90 per cent of global senior finance leaders agree that their key task today is to prepare the company for the unexpected, with a mere two per cent disagreeing. (2) The advent of digital tools such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics are revolutionising how business leaders make decisions, underlining the critical nature of these technologies in strategic financial planning and enhancing organisational resilience.

Fabian Calle, managing director, small and medium business, SAP Concur Australia and New Zealand, said, “Switching to a digital-first financial approach can bring its own set of hurdles for CFOs, such as dealing with the costs involved, the perceived lack of necessary skills among their teams, and some pushback from within their own company. The benefits of digital transformation lead to streamlined processes, better deployment of resources on strategic tasks, and clearer visibility for planning purposes. CFOs need to take the lead within the business in pushing for these digital changes, making sure their teams are up to speed with the required skills.”

Research by SAP Concur sheds light on how CFOs are proactively tackling these challenges. They’re keeping a close eye on market trends (57 per cent), pouring investments into new technologies like automation and AI (33 per cent), and channelling funds into innovative projects (40 per cent). By focusing on these initiatives, CFOs can streamline budgeting and forecasting processes, positioning their organisations for success in an increasingly digital and environmentally conscious marketplace. (3)

Furthermore, CFOs are focusing on making their companies more diverse and inclusive, collaborating closely with human resources (HR) to drive tangible impact on business performance and employee satisfaction. Research by Deloitte shows a rise in adoption of formal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, demonstrating the importance of these initiatives for corporate growth and better financial performance. (4)

This trend towards DEI is also reflected in the actions CFOs are taking, such as addressing biases in hiring and development practices, setting DEI-related goals, and integrating DEI into corporate strategies. The partnership between HR and CFOs is crucial, as it combines qualitative insights from HR with the quantitative analysis of finance, enhancing overall business performance and making organisations more attractive to a diverse talent pool.

Corporate travel is another key focus for CFOs who are leveraging intelligent travel and expense (T&E) systems to assess travel’s impact on the company. These systems provide insights into popular destinations and spending patterns.  

Fabian Calle said, “Finance leaders can introduce intelligent T&E tools that streamline processes through automation, reducing the time and effort employees need to manage their travels. These tools also offer crucial travel information, including medical assistance and safety tips for various destinations. This approach can alleviate travel-related frustrations and contribute to a work environment that values efficiency, safety, and inclusivity, making the business a more attractive place to work, both in and out of the office.”

CFOs can also craft expense policies that promote sustainability, encouraging greener travel choices. Additionally, these tools empower employees to track their travel footprint and explore options for offsetting carbon emissions, creating a culture of sustainability within the organisation.  

Jonathan Beeby, managing director, SAP Concur Australia and New Zealand, said, “CFOs have evolved beyond traditional roles to become central figures in strategic planning, digital innovation, and sustainability leadership. Armed with tools that let employees understand and offset their travel footprint, CFOs help make more sustainable choices. Their capability to navigate financial complexities and lead strategic initiatives emphasises their essential role in shaping the future direction of their company.” 

Key Traits to Seek in Your Next CFO

Dynamic Business has curated a list of traits that SMEs should look for when hiring a Chief Financial Officer. It’s essential to identify candidates with a blend of technical expertise, strategic vision, and leadership capabilities. Here are the key traits to look for in a CFO:

1. Financial Expertise

  • Technical Knowledge: Proficiency in financial management, accounting principles, regulatory compliance, and financial reporting.
  • Analytical Skills: Ability to analyze complex financial data, identify trends, and provide actionable insights.
  • Risk Management: Experience in assessing and managing financial risks, including credit risk, market risk, and operational risk.

2. Strategic Thinking

  • Business Acumen: Deep understanding of the business environment, market dynamics, and industry trends.
  • Long-Term Vision: Capability to develop and execute long-term financial strategies that align with the company’s goals.
  • Innovative Approach: Willingness to explore new financial models, investment opportunities, and technological advancements.

3. Leadership Skills

  • Team Management: Proven ability to lead and develop a high-performing finance team.
  • Collaboration: Effective in working with other C-suite executives, board members, and departments to drive company-wide initiatives.
  • Decision-Making: Strong ability to make informed, timely decisions, especially under pressure.

4. Communication Skills

  • Clarity: Ability to communicate complex financial information clearly and concisely to various stakeholders, including non-financial executives and board members.
  • Influence: Skill in persuading and influencing others to gain support for financial strategies and decisions.
  • Transparency: Commitment to open and honest communication, fostering trust within the organization.

5. Integrity and Ethics

  • Trustworthiness: High ethical standards and integrity in handling confidential and sensitive financial information.
  • Accountability: Willingness to take responsibility for financial decisions and outcomes.
  • Compliance: Strong understanding of and adherence to financial regulations and ethical standards.

6. Adaptability

  • Flexibility: Ability to adapt to changing market conditions, regulatory environments, and organizational needs.
  • Problem-Solving: Creative and resourceful in addressing financial challenges and finding innovative solutions.
  • Resilience: Capacity to stay focused and productive in the face of setbacks or changes.

7. Technology Savvy

  • Tech Proficiency: Familiarity with financial software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and data analytics tools.
  • Digital Transformation: Experience in leveraging technology to improve financial processes, reporting, and decision-making.

8. Industry Knowledge

  • Relevant Experience: Prior experience in the same or a similar industry can be highly valuable.
  • Market Understanding: In-depth knowledge of industry-specific financial trends, challenges, and opportunities.

9. Performance Orientation

  • Results-Driven: Focused on achieving measurable financial outcomes and driving organizational performance.
  • KPIs and Metrics: Skilled in setting, monitoring, and achieving key performance indicators (KPIs) and financial metrics.

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