Sunday, May 26, 2024

Today’s CFO roles, tools and priorities: The more things change . . .

Finance customers across business units see a significant need for finance to step up and influence departmental and business-wide strategic plans. Although gains have been made, particularly among top performing organizations, the centralization and distribution of financial and nonfinancial data is still not happening as effectively and efficiently as it might.

In theory, these observations are a great summary of where chief financial officers stand within the enterprise today, and a call-to-action on evolving beyond 2019.

There’s just one problem. That passage was not written in 2019 but in 2013, as part of consulting firm PwC’s Finance Effectiveness Benchmark Report.

Even a quick skim through the report will seem eerily familiar to both CFOs and the business managers who work with them. Most top priorities in finance haven’t changed. The sense that much of finance is ripe for automation hasn’t changed. The underlying message is as relevant today as it was six years ago.

This begs the question: Has anything changed? And if not, when will it?

To be fair, the shift of CFOs from bean-counters to data-driven decision-makers was always expected by most experts to be more of an evolution than a revolution. While it’s relatively straightforward to look at what technology has to offer, or what kind of future it will bring, nailing down a timeline for getting there is much more difficult.

Even if the 2013 PwC report suggests CFOs have been hearing the same mantra for more than half a decade, the most recent version from 2019 does give some signs of progress. The study goes over much of the same points as in past years but gets more specific about what sets top-performing CFOs apart from the rest of the pack:

They’re clear on their value proposition.  They’re not content with business as usual and want to keep improving and challenging the way they operate, the value they add, and how they interface with the business. They have an unrelenting focus on efficiency—challenging what to stop doing, as well as what to standardize and automate.

Much like getting physically fit involves doing the same exercises over and over, or mastering a musical instrument can take endless hours doing nothing but scales, we should expect that developing a new CFO mindset is a long-term process – one that takes practice to show progress.

To be sure, here’s another familiar refrain from the 2017 edition of the Finance Effectiveness report:

Wherever possible it’s not about automating manual processes; it’s about using technology to eliminate the need for processes like bank reconciliation altogether. It makes you wonder: how much time is spent in the finance function doing what no longer needs to be done?

Benchmark studies like PwC’s are highly instructive but they do pose a risk; that CFOs begin tuning out when they read the same or similar findings year after year. The risk is worth it though, if only to continue hammering home some of these recurring messages – and especially if they help accelerate the evolution of CFO behaviors and attitudes to line up their top-performing peers.

Eventually – hopefully in fact – the calls to action CFOs keep hearing might sound ridiculously obvious, if not redundant. That’s the imagined destination. Until then, global thought leaders like PwC have a pivotal part to play in accelerating the evolution of finance.

Editor’s note: provides content marketing services to Vena Solutions


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Nicole Diceman
Nicole Diceman
Nicole Diceman is an experienced product marketing professional with a proven track record working with and leading cross-functional teams. Her experience spans market research and segmentation, product positioning, marketing communications, online marketing, solutions selling and consultative, relationship-driven project management. Nicole joined Vena to head up product marketing after more than a decade in the FP&A and corporate performance management (CPM) software sector.