CFOs – Managing the Big Picture

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in your role as CFO today? With a range of conflicting pressures, expectations and people to manage, the role of the CFO is demanding and often stressful. 

It can be difficult to see how to mitigate the demands of your job. You’ll have a highly professional team to support the finance function, of course. But you also have to work cross-functionally: with other C-suite colleagues, with senior leaders in your business, with shareholders and investors and with third parties such as auditors and regulators.

So, while your technical skills and your business instincts need to be excellent, you also need to be a relationship builder – someone who is trusted to give the best advice, communicate proactively and be able to speak confidently and credibly on behalf of your business. This is becoming even more important as the emphasis on ESG increases – where both the business community and your local community expects high standards and reporting.

Increasingly, CFOs are also expected to be tech-aware. The critical business function that Finance delivers means that it can benefit most from technology. The skill is in understanding precisely what technology you need and how it can make a measurable difference not just to the bottom line, but to operations, wellbeing and investor value.

What are your priorities?

When we talk to CFOs, we hear some common priorities. These are all to do with the bigger picture, rather than the day-to-day detail. Here’s what they tell us:

  1. Controlling the data

Large businesses and businesses experiencing significant growth generate a lot of data. CFOs don’t want to be ‘data monitors’ but it often ends up coming under their remit. Where data is fragmented across the business, it is more difficult to plan, budget and strategise – something that CFOs find frustrating, because they are often asked for critical information that they can’t provide quickly or accurately.

So, centralising, controlling and analysing data reliably and efficiently is a high priority. A survey from Grant Thornton in late 2023 showed that 58% of finance leaders were planning to increase IT and digital transformation spending in 2024. 

The trick is how to do this well. CFOs are all-too-familiar with poor IT projects that cost too much money, take too much time and don’t deliver the required results. They absolutely don’t want to make the same mistakes with their own IT project – and they will already have a number of systems in place. 

So, while they may want to increase spend and improve technology, there is a nervousness about getting it right – particularly when it comes to systems and solutions that include an AI or machine learning function. But that’s what’s required to overcome the data challenge.

  1. Reporting

When we talk about the way our QEA platform can transform reporting across the business, CFOs prick up their ears. Reporting is a serious requirement – whether your company is public or private – and CFOs are judged on their accurate, timely reporting. 

The lack of data clarity in your business can have a significant impact on the quality of your reporting. It can take too much time to find and analyse the data, often pushing reporting deadlines back, and causing sleepless nights all round.

As reporting requirements become more stringent, a solution that allows for templated reports that can be filled with accurate, real-time data removes a real headache for CFOs.

  1. Strategy, planning and budgeting

CEOs are tough bosses. They have their own stresses and strains, not least the responsibility for growing the business and leading strategy. In an ideal world, the CEO, the CFO and the other C-suite leaders work together on strategy, but all CFOs have worked in businesses where the CEO is thinking further ahead than the business data can support.

That doesn’t have to be the case. Again, the key to taking your part in leading future strategic planning is down to having a common data model and the business analytics that allows you to use that data to spot opportunities for savings, new income streams, operational efficiencies, expanded markets and more. 

The impetus you’ll get when you are 100% confident in the information you’re presenting and the scenario planning you can produce can transform your role and your opportunities.

  1. Economic, market and climate responsiveness

Part of your job as CFO is to look ahead at how changes to national and international economies, markets and socio-economic influences are going to impact your business. To do this properly, you need to be able to pull in relevant data – from currencies to market reports. 

Advanced technology allows you to access the analytics, real-time data and broader picture you need to give you strategic insight, more accurate scenario planning and long-term forecasting confidence. 

In turn, this lets your business understand its operational market more deeply, make better strategic decisions and gives you a competitive advantage. CFOs know this – so your competitors will also be looking at how they can manage these issues. Can you afford to delay?

What can you do next?

Your priorities are delivering a financially-resilient business that can pivot quickly when it faces challenges, and plan properly for growth and financial success. You need to be able to show all the stakeholders you’re working with that you have put in place the technology, capability and processes to make the business position as strong as possible.

You need to be able to give confidence to your board, your investors, your employees and the wider business community. And to do that, you need to look seriously at how you can tame the data in your business, analyse it in a way that meets your specific needs, and enhance the skills in your team by releasing their time, giving them the best information and giving them access to game-changing technology.

Essentially, now is the time to reduce uncertainty and increase resilience. If not now, when?

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