Modern CFOs are innovation allies. Most CFOs are capable of communicating with technologists.
Most Modern CFOs have embraced digital transformation making their role more strategic than ever. Many finance leaders are being asked to resolve issues in areas that are relatively new to them.
- Most Modern CFOs have embraced digital transformation.
- They are more strategic and think beyond reporting and compliance.
- The modern CFO has embraced organisational overhauls and changes to stay relevant in the era of data.
TFS spoke to several CFOs who are leading tech adoption in many companies and believe that the role of the CFO has become as strategic as ever.
According to a Mckinsey report, the number of functions reporting to CFOs has risen from about four to more than six.
What’s more, the share of CFOs saying they oversee their companies’ digital activities has doubled during that time.
Many finance leaders say that they are being asked to resolve issues in areas that are relatively new to them while continuing to mind traditional responsibilities, such as risk management and business priorities.
The Mckinsey report adds that the CFO is the second-most common leader, after the CEO, well-known for initiating a transformation.
We spoke to CFOs to understand their roles.
Changing roles of CFOs
Divya Kumar is the Group Digital CFO at IKEA Retail.
Fifteen years ago, Divya took a conscious call to be more technology and analytics savvy, because she knew that without these two, she was going to fail as a CFO.
"Honestly, my role has changed a lot. The first thing is that the mandate of the CFO has become blurred.
Previously, we used to know exactly what we were doing, whether it was about finance, audit, or anything else. Yes, business used to be at the heart of it, but the business did not need the CFO driving epic movements.
Now it is all about strategic partnerships between the CEO, COO, CDO, CTO, and CFO that drive the company towards its goals.
Although business is at the heart of what CFOs do, CFOs need to take their individual hats off and embrace diversity to make decisions that favour the company’s objectives.
The second thing that has changed is the need for data analytics, because of the ever-changing nature of technology, digital transformation, and the data explosion.
This involves the understanding of data risks because the more we rely on data, the riskier it becomes.
So, we need to understand how data flows, what impact it has, as well as how to mitigate identified risks. Through analytics, we should know when and how to use data.”
Amitesh Kumar is the COO and CFO at Midland Microfin - a tech-savvy microfinance institution. Amitesh says,
"My role has definitely evolved because of technology.
Apart from the traditional CFO roles, my role is to understand what is happening in the industry and how we can integrate technology into our company.
And then formally, I put forward the decision in front of the tech team and they execute our ideas in terms of designing the system as per our needs."
Amitesh Kumar also led various technology transformation initiatives like the last mile, effective information exchange at the institutional level, various digital collection integration, integration of customer relationship management, and mobility solutions.
Saurabh Gupta, CFO at Dixon Technologies India, says
"The CFO’s role and responsibility have shifted significantly in the last few years.
Nowadays, CFOs have a clear stake in enterprise IT strategy and in shaping how the organization may best realize its cost benefits.
The finance function and I are at the forefront of digitization in the form of automation, analytics, robotic processes, and data visualization.
Since I am also heading the IT team, the implementation of digital technologies is also my responsibility
Over the last 3-4 years, we have taken strides toward digital transformation, thereby simplifying decision-making processes by providing dynamic reports and real-time data to eliminate number crunching.
Together with the CIO, I consider operational and financial issues and weigh the potential risks when the business needs to implement new technology solutions."
Sourav Das, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Aditya Birla Group agrees that CFOs are embracing technology to alleviate performance and efficiency. He says:
“More and more CFOs are automating algorithms for solving complex business problems.
They have become tech-savvy and are keen on leveraging technology for improving their infrastructure and output. So, whenever I speak to any of the CFOs they are very keen on understanding how technology can help them.”
CFOs of technology businesses
M P Vijay Kumar (MPV), CFO of Sify Technologies says,
“Technology comes at a cost and an investment is attributed to every decision.
For instance, there are home-grown technologies and third-party technologies. Both require an understanding of what the technology is, its monetization plan, investments, and the pricing to the end customer.
Ultimately the finance element must be taken into consideration for it to be economically rewarding for the customer and profitable to the company.
Before we decide on embracing technology, we go through an elaborate evaluation process of understanding the technology.
As a CFO my role in this process is to guide the buying and implementation costs and the RoI attached to the projects as a whole. So, as an attached measure, yes I do have a role.”
Vikas Wadhawan, CFO Housing.com says
“In the face of an ever-evolving business world, the role of a CFO is undergoing a lot of transition. The CFO has become quite pivotal for the growth of a company --- donning many hats.
Today, a CFO is expected to bring operational resilience through his multi-faceted role. Aside from having a firm grip on numbers, a deep understanding of the business and growth drivers of the business, a CFO must also demonstrate that grit, which is typical of a leader, and highly necessary to help a business grow during different phases amid cut-throat competition.
Being CFO of a technology business, the decision of tech investment is an ongoing journey for us.”
Balaji Mani is the CFO of Amazon Pay. When asked if he plays a role in innovation and tech adoption this is what he had to say,
“As the CFO of Amazon Pay, I work closely with the CTO and the CEO to define, what really are big bets in technology.
And why do we prioritize? Because, at the end of the day, technology resources are again limited, and, when you have limited resources, I think that is where strategy and prioritisation come in.”
Tales of evolutions
If you want to validate that old adage that ‘the only constant in life, is change’ then you need not look any further than the role of the CFO.
Many of today’s CFOs are expected to partner with business leaders, innovate growth models and drive transformation.
Today’s CFO brings strong accounting and compliance skills, but they are also focused on strategic and operational roles. This trend has raised the demand for chief accounting officers (CAOs) - says Jason Waterman, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Financial Officers practice.
Therefore, the modern CFO cannot be busy with fiduciary responsibility alone.
As organisations evolve towards a digital future, the CFO is increasingly becoming a data officer.
Going forward, the CFO of the 2020s and their finance functions will need to be very adept in leveraging technology.
CFOs will continue to become further entwined with technologists and the Chief Data Officer (“CDO”) to ensure that the outcomes are those, that are most complimentary for the business.
The reality will mean they will spend less time on recording and verifying the numbers, and more time on making the data connections and explaining the number implications.
Aiming for a CFO role in the future? You should do the following
1. Making the business ready for future endeavours.
2. Improving efficiency.
"As a CFO my role involves supporting business leaders in making the right investments that will result in the right ROI. I have realised that as a CFO I can achieve this by directing my focus towards understanding the problem, making sure that the technology addresses the problem, and its systematic implementation. It is also important to clearly understand the outcome that is being targeted and then measure that in reality," says Vidhya Srinivasan, CFO of Bata India.
3. With Business Intelligence, make information available on a real-time basis, to support business decisions.
4. Thinking strategically for the business is one of the core responsibilities of CFOs.
5. Learn to communicate with people in technology: Nontech professionals need not know how to code. What is important is how they communicate with the technology team.
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(Edited by Preeti Mondal)