Only 19% of finance leaders describe digital change as top priority

27 November 2018 4 min. read

With digital transformation the top priority for many aspects of modern business, with innovations presenting a key chance to get a leg up on competitors, it has been revealed that CFOs broadly do not share this enthusiasm. According to a new study, less than one in five view digital change as a top priority, while feeling uncomfortable with change programmes when they do occur.

In a climate of anxiety, 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. As CFOs have grown more risk-averse, and are predictably placing greater emphasis on defensive strategies for the coming years, they are increasingly turning to technology to help them combat this array of issues. To that end, a recent survey by Accenture found that eight in ten CFOs were spearheading digital transformation at firms where it was occurring.

This is a positive scenario for many firms, as thanks to their role and skillset, many CFOs are actually the ideal candidate to take such a leading position. The combination of their financial acumen to develop the business case for digital change projects and their placement in the firm which enables them to showcase how digital tools can transform the efficiency and productivity of their own department. Unfortunately, according to RSM, while a growing number have done this, many are yet to grasp this opportunity.

Finance leaders' attitudes to a digital change

The new study from the auditing and advisory firm demonstrates that while 92% of finance leaders believe digital will have a moderate or major impact on their role over the long term, a mere 19% describe digital change as their top priority. This demonstrates a failure among many Finance departments to understand how digitalisation intersects with other issues, or how it can improve a company's survives the.

Part of the unwillingness to interact with digitalisation likely stems from a lack of confidence in CFOs' own abilities. Within the c-suite, CFOs are the least confident in their potential to lead digital change projects. Just 25% said they had all the skills they need to do this. This compared to 57% of business leaders more generally, and 51% of IT leaders. The title of a professional’s role also seems to play a role in compartmentalising their perception of their remit, as CFOs believe digital change is more the job of the business leader or the IT leader than the finance leader.

Technologies finance leaders have adopted in their organisations

RSM also found that finance leaders are slow to adopt new technologies for their own departments. The right digital updates can transform the way the finance function operates – slashing the time it takes to process transactions, reducing the use of valuable resources, and making it possible for teams to collaborate on richer and faster insights for the management of a firm. 

However, just 42% of finance leaders have adopted cloud computing. In a fast-moving digital world, this will only hold teams back. To further illustrate that point, RSM found that big data and analytics had been deployed by only 27%, while only 14% had engaged in automation and AI solutions.

In conclusion, the authors summarised, “Too often, finance leaders are so overwhelmed by the day job – pulling and presenting business insights and preparing for month or year-end – that they struggle to find the time to horizon scan for new innovations. Yet technology is the one investment that can reduce their time spent on these activities. Those who are able to reconcile their day job and a digital change agenda will, over the long-term, find success in a digital world. Those that don’t run the risk of remaining uncompetitive in a fast-changing world.”