Eight in ten CFOs spearheading digital transformation

17 September 2018 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read

According to a new study, finance directors are increasingly leading the charge for digital change within companies as their role pivots away from the traditional accounting function. Eight in every 10 Chief Financial Officers are now spearheading their companies’ adoption of digital technology, as disruption continues to grip the business world.

As Chief Financial Officers at companies across the world face up to seemingly unresolvable uncertainties surrounding Brexit in the UK and the mounting threat of international trade wars more generally. In this climate of anxiety, a number of Deloitte surveys have shown that many CFOs have grown more risk-averse, and are predictably placing greater emphasis on defensive strategies for the coming years. As a result, CFOs are increasingly turning to technology to help them combat this array of issues.

A global poll, from EY, at the turn of the year saw CFOs list their number one priority as “Upgrading IT and financial data analytics tools to professionalise finance management.” Due to the notable challenges this presents, including the need to up-skill staff and recruit technological specialists into companies, 87% of CFOs also noted that they plan to increase their investment in corporate reporting technologies over the next two years. Meanwhile, 85% of the same group confirmed are now providing automated alerts to audit committees and boards about governance, risk and compliance issues, with this increasing to 95% of US respondents and 93% of UK respondents.

Following up on this, new research by Accenture has found that today’s financial directors play a larger role in driving digital disruption across their respective organisations than ever before. Rather than looking back, today’s CFOs are change agents who look forward, directing company-wide digital investment. Accenture probed more than 700 finance leaders from around the globe, alongside more than 200 up-and-coming finance professionals considered tomorrow’s likely CFOs, to find that as automation has become a key objective to maximising the functionality both inside and outside a CFO’s role, many of those in the job are working to get their houses in order to free up the time they need to branch out and take on entirely new tasks with broader impact.

Proportions of finance functions that are receiving growing requests for insight and analytics in key areas

Reflecting this, 81% of all CFOs now see identifying and targeting areas of new value across the wider business as one of their main responsibilities, while 77% believe it is within their remit to drive business-wide operational transformation. At the same time, a further 73% of respondents told Accenture that they are already exploring how disruptive technologies could benefit the entire organisation and business eco-system.

Commenting on the drastic findings, David Axson, a Senior Strategy Executive Principal in Accenture’s UKI CFO Strategies wing, said, “In virtually every company we look at, the CFO is becoming the second most important C-suite executive, sitting at the right hand of the CEO and articulating a story about the financial results they expect to realise. An effective leadership team depends on the CEO and CFO being a great double act.”

The study revealed the areas in which finance functions are receiving the largest amount of growth in requests for insight and analytics, from the broader business. While financial data remains one of the largest areas in firms which were not considered “high growth”, listed by 54% of respondents, in the case of high-growth firms – organisations that greatly exceeded their targets for revenue growth last year – it was only joint-fourth, at 72%.

In the case of high-growth firms, financial data was behind market data relating to pricing and trade, social media data, and marketing and CRM data, each at 74%. This suggests that companies getting the most from their finance functions are the ones which encourage their CFO to expand their digital remit beyond purely accounting roles.

Finance’s non-traditional strengths and their value to the business

To further illustrate this point, Accenture’s study also looked to demonstrate the potential value of finance’s non-traditional strengths to the broader business. In every case mentioned, fewer than 8% of respondents found that finance was worse than other functional areas at the capabilities in question, while a majority of three-quarters or more found they were better than other functions.

The foremost of these fields was in forecasting the long-term value and lifespan of specific technologies being implemented by a company. As firms across the board look to boost their performance by adopting a range of new innovations, this is increasingly important to help ensure a firm gets the maximum value for money from their new apparatus, and according to the report, 80% feel that finance is better at this than other functions.

Elsewhere, guiding the successful adoption of emerging and evolving technologies and effectively balancing investments in technology, between core and new business elements, also scored highly. With both perceived as being fulfilled best by finance by 78% of respondents, the functions reveal that CFO’s understanding of technology, alongside their knowledge of the financial health of each area of a company, are key to maximising digital transformation efforts.

David Axson added, “In an era of unprecedented disruption, this repositioning of the role will continue as CFOs take the role of digital stewards, using data to drive value and improve efficiency while mapping out the digital investments required for their organisations to remain competitive.”