Role of CFOs gaining strategic influence in firms: Study

Tuesday, 11 June 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The role of the CFO has gained strategic influence over the past three years, according to 71% of CFOs, and converging technologies such as big data, cloud computing, mobile and social media are increasingly important to their ability to deliver cost savings and growth, according to a new report from Accenture and Oracle.

Of the 930 global CFOs surveyed for the report, ‘The CFO as Catalyst for Change’, nearly two thirds (65%) said they had an increasing responsibility for setting and determining strategy. Almost half (47%) said their role in business transformation efforts had increased.

As their roles expand, CFOs are turning to technology in order to meet new expectations. When asked where they could improve their skills and capabilities to execute on cost and growth agendas, CFOs ranked technology knowledge as second only to industry knowledge. 79% of respondents indicated that access to information is an important driver of organisational agility, and 57% believe investments in big data and analytics could provide a competitive advantage. Finally, 84% of CFOs noted that cooperation with their CIOs had increased during the past three years.

“As CFOs see their zone of influence and responsibilities expand, they can also be under-increasing pressure to fuel their corporate growth engines, as reconfirmed in this study,” said Accenture Managing Director of Finance and Enterprise Performance Donniel Schulman. “As the CFO agenda broadens, finance officers are leveraging back office processes, controls and analytics to provide insight and priorities for transformation. This can allow them to successfully step up and fulfil their role as agents of change.”  

Despite the growing value of technology, CFOs say that a number of obstacles are hindering their ability to reach their full strategic potential. The top three, according to the report, are the challenging economic environment (identified by 37% of respondents), a shortage of time (35%) and lack of integration between the finance function and other parts of the business (31%).

Meanwhile, CFOs also say that their priorities are changing. For instance, some worry that further cost cutting could endanger growth, according to the report. Top priorities for the past three years have been profitability, cost management, cash flow and working capital. And while these continue to be the priorities, the report notes that, “the cost levers that worked in the past may be less effective in the future because the easy wins have already been earned.”

In this respect, the role of technology in the CFO agenda seems likely to change. The report reveals that CFOs see a need to shift away from IT maintenance and integration issues to focus on technology as an innovation-enabler that can drive strategic, operational and professional objectives. Still, CFO’s greatest reported concern about technology was the cost of maintenance and integration, as well as the lack of integration between systems and data quality.         

“CFOs have always played a critical role in successful businesses, but what we have seen over the last few years is that the role has expanded beyond traditional finance disciplines to increasingly include a broader business strategy and transformation initiatives,” said Oracle Vice President Product Marketing John O’Rourke. “As this study shows, CFOs realise that while their role has evolved, there is still scope to expand their influence within the business and further utilise their unique skill set. Technology can play an important part in helping CFOs realise this potential and we hope the insights delivered in this report can help facilitate that process.”

“CFOs are increasingly recognising the importance of robust analytics capabilities that deliver the insights to underpin performance management, inform senior leaders and foster innovation to stimulate growth,” said Accenture Managing Director Finance and Enterprise Performance Scott Brennan. “This report suggests that further integration should occur across silos to enable CFOs to succeed and it is here that mobile, social media and other technologies can also make a significant difference.”