The majority of CFOs acknowledge that the traditional structure of the finance function has to change if it’s to support fast-moving, digital organisations. Rather than focusing on historical information, Finance needs to be forward-thinking, analytical and designed to accelerate performance, while also retaining a keen understanding of risk.
It’s a shift that requires CFOs to explore bringing in people with different skills and backgrounds, especially with the introduction of new technology. Joanne Wilson, CFO of Britvic, comments: “It’s the role of you as a leader to help share the vision for the function with your teams and help them to understand how it’s going to improve the deliverables of the finance team and what it means for individuals.
“I firmly believe that with this automation comes the opportunity for finance teams to do what they never had the time to do before.”
Stuart Owens, Finance Director for Europcar Mobility Group UK, comments: “I’m in a business where we have quite old legacy systems, lots of manual tasks, so it’s a good opportunity to remove that, redirect people’s attention, particularly in Finance, from effectively processing to value-added."
He continues: “You have to look at it end to end, re-engineer it and then work out where the robots should work and where you need people to make those quality decisions.”
In Criticaleye’s CFO Retreat Research 2019, 75 percent of respondents acknowledge that they need to strengthen the capability of the finance function. Amy Francis, Senior Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, comments: “The rise of predictive analytics, combined with the automation of processed-based tasks, is changing how CFOs think about the mix of skills they need in their function.
“At the same time, they also need to understand how Finance can help other parts of the organisation embrace this new way of using information to make decisions.”
For all the predicted changes, it remains the remit of the CFO to be the guardian and conscience of the organisation. They should be challenging the Chief Executive where necessary and putting proper internal controls in place.
James Taylor, CFO of Mayborn Group, notes that “the CFO has to have the ability to see where the risk lies and mitigate that risk and communicate that to the business”. However, he goes on to explain that the most effective and high-performing CFOs are able to go a step further. “You set the strategy and then it’s about execution. So often it’s about holding your nerve – it’s about being bold on those decisions and not shrinking back into Finance.”
This point is built on by Michele Faull, CFO of Coventry Building Society. “The first thing you need to do is to spend a lot of time looking up and out from the business and really consider what could the next five, ten or 15 years bring,” she says.
“The classic ‘Kodak moment’ happens because people are very focused on what they need to do next given the problems they have here and now today, rather than saying: ‘How is our world changing? And, where could that change mean we need to evolve?’”
In some ways, a CFO could feel overwhelmed by the number of changes coming their way. It’s one of the reasons why Stuart advises his peers to take a breath and move forward one step at a time. “Even in a crisis, you’ve got to try to stay calm… but be open minded and willing to change. I’m a big proponent of ‘we’ve always got to be changing’. It’s usually not big steps, it’s continuous improvement.”
Criticaleye’s CFO Retreat 2019, held in association with Brewin Dolphin, takes place on 14th and 15th November. To find out more information, please contact Emma Carroll
These comments were taken from the following Criticaleye films: