Automation has transformed CFOs from "economic guardians of data" into "digital evangelists," Manoj Shroff, a managing director in Accenture's Bangalore, India, office, said in an interview with CFO Dive.
"Accounting used to be a very bookkeeping-type function [that looked] at historical data, and recorded the numbers and performance," he said. "Due to several macroeconomic factors, that is changing." Shroff's expertise is in transforming finance functions from transactional to strategic, using data, intelligent technologies and talent.
Shroff said he sees CFOs' duties stretching across eight towers: strategic planning and target setting; financial planning; forecasting; transaction processing; cash management; accounting; driving compliance and controls; and generating reports and analysis.
But in recent years, 80% of the work in those towers has become automated, Shroff said. And with that, the focus, for CFOs, is shifting.
"The role of the CFO is changing significantly from leading a function that's going to drive transaction processing, accounting and compliance more to generating business outcomes for the client," he said.
This puts the CFO in a great position to set the tone for technological adaptation, Shroff said.
CFOs are increasingly the best suited to be the "digital evangelists" in their company, according to Shroff, as a large majority of CFOs surveyed by Accenture believe the role should lead in this transformation.
"Seventy-seven percent of CFOs agree that [the finance department] is the most capable at setting the agenda and rollout for new technology," he said. "There is increased pressure to show growth and profitability in hyper-volatile environments with changes in consumer behavior.
"Increasingly, as we are seeing 80% of the transaction functions getting automated, the focus is shifting more to the business outcomes," Shroff said. "The role of CFO is changing significantly from ... driving transaction processing, accounting controls and compliance, more towards generating business outcomes for the client."
In the fintech space, Shroff said CFOs should expect on-demand insights to become more of an expectation. He also said the digital user experience will become even more important, and that risk management and compliance will become more significant.
He also encouraged CFOs to use diverse data to identify trends and opportunities, make real-time decisions and create a roadmap for their enterprise.
"We are no longer in the age of manual transaction processing. We are in the machine age; the digital age," Shroff said. "We are reimagining processes. This all requires a new mindset."
CFOs can’t go it alone
Human-machine talent has the potential to drive better insights and outcomes. According to Shroff, this dynamic will "help augment human domain and industry expertise with intelligent digital technologies. The intelligence [will] be woven into integrated data and a knowledge-driven approach."
However, the human-machine relationship cannot supersede the importance of C-suite collaboration when putting new technology and systems in place. "If CFOs are going to be the digital evangelist, they need a strong partnership with the technology function" as well as other departments, he said.
From this, Schroff suggests CFOs form a relationship with human resources. For example, Accenture has 50,000 robots working in finance and accounting alongside 36,500 humans. The robots create capacity for human talent in new advisory roles, and this is where the partnership with HR becomes "extremely important," to be able to recruit the talent necessary to excel in this dynamic environment.
Forging ahead, Shroff asked, how do we continue to invest in talent? What kind of talent we should be hiring for the finance function, who are not just domain or industry experts, but are also open to adopting newer technologies?
CFOs should be partnering with information technology, marketing, supply chain and customer experience, because finance is "increasingly playing a leading role across the whole enterprise,” Shroff said.