What does it mean to be a CFO in 2019? Something much different than it did even a few years ago, that’s for sure.
According to McKinsey, the number of CFOs overseeing their company’s digital activities has doubled in two years, and they are increasingly asked to resolve business issues outside of the traditional finance function.
I can certainly attest to that. Indeed, today’s CFOs are more than just accountants who report on what happens. As the role has progressively developed, their responsibilities have shifted. And using data is an integral part.
In other words, the old approach doesn’t cut it anymore. Today’s CFOs are acting as both change agents and sources of competitive advantage. And they are doing it by filling the following four roles.
1 – Strategist
The CFO is responsible for the financial plan and what is happening for the business moving forward, including keeping everything in check. Like any good strategist, they need to know what is already in plan for the future—accurately forecasting and assessing business health. It’s challenging to develop a strategy with little visibility over your actual progress, which is why access to accurate data is a vital ingredient to a CFO’s success.
2 – Steward
Today’s CFO needs to be someone who looks after and manages assets on behalf of someone else—and do it well. As part of this, the CFO needs to know the full details of the assets they are preserving, and whether or not they are doing a good job as caretaker.
3 – Catalyst
CFOs now need to ask themselves, “How am I going to catalyze the company performance to drive higher results and margins?” They are always asking themselves how to best balance performance and risk, how they can have a positive impact on the financial outcomes of the business by driving change, and how they can best advise others to drive change.
4 – Operator
Additionally, today’s CFO must actually be operating the financial side of the business and be able to get things done. This all must be trackable, as the financial reporting is arguably the most important of them all. Getting it wrong can have dire consequences.
The Data Difference
Many CFOs just don’t have the information they need to run a business. The data might be in the system but isn’t readily available as an insight when it’s needed, beyond the core financials.
To be a modern CFO means you are data-driven. It means decisions are based on information and facts, rather than your gut or past knowledge. And it works; businesses that use digital tools to be data driven derive more than double the benefits from earnings.
One of the big problems with moving forward with data, however, is that it’s very easy to get lost in the mechanics. Most people start from the data and work up, but this traditional approach is the reason why 80% of big data projects fail.
Instead, it’s essential to start with what the decision is actually around. For example, find out the business questions that need to be answered—like how long it takes to ship a product, or how many products are being returned. By thinking about the questions that need to be answered, it’s possible to think about how to get the metrics.
There are challenges for the modern CFO ahead, but taking the right approach can lead to success. I have a set of business questions in my Domo dashboard that drive performance through the organization, allowing everyone to see how they’re performing and address gaps. The information is available to the board and even investors. Underpinning the four key roles with a data-driven approach guides the modern CFO to success and builds a strong advantage, for both the CFO and their organization