CFOs and senior finance executives are facing a growing list of responsibilities and demands from internal stakeholders as the pandemic has stress-tested the finance labor model in real time, Menlo Park, California-based consultancy Protiviti's annual Finance Trends Survey found.
The survey, released Monday and based on responses from 1,057 finance leaders in July and August, says the pandemic has served as a wake-up call to finance departments that were not already investing — or not investing enough — in cloud infrastructure. The study finds they did not have enough of their processes and data based in the cloud to support a seamless transition to remote work.
Of those respondents who are CFOs and vice presidents of finance, 72% ranked cloud-based applications as a top priority over the next 12 months, and 17% ranked cloud-based applications as the most important finance priority for their organizations to address — a jump from 8% in the 2019 survey.
"Having the right technology infrastructure and cloud capabilities is now considered a baseline in order to operate effectively," Chris Wright, managing director of Protiviti's Business Performance Improvement practice, said. "We're now seeing an increasing number of boards and CEOs tap their finance leaders for guidance about whether their organization is allocating enough resources to their technology infrastructure."
CFOs are also embracing a shift towards a new "future labor model," the survey found. The model leverages "a blend of internal staff with external experts and services to better perform various finance activities."
CFO respondents reported outsourcing processes to managed services providers to equip their team with the resources they need to be nimble and meet growing responsibilities.
Eighteen percent of CFOs and finance VPs said their finance organizations are relying on managed services providers, and 29% are leveraging staff augmentation to support greater speed and agility for financial planning and analysis.
As remote work has become vital, CFOs' focus on the cloud, digital transformation and AI has exploded from 2019.
"We're seeing finance departments increasingly turn to external partners to help deploy advanced technologies and provide in-depth expertise," Wright said. "CFOs will continue to play an integral role in developing a future labor model and ensuring their departments have the right talent and skills in-house, combined with the support of external service providers."
"We've noticed the CFO community has been advocating successfully for a seat at the strategic table," Wright said. "They've earned that seat over the last couple years. Being right in the past has helped CFOs be useful in the present."
Going forward, CFOs should regularly reflect on how they've handled various setbacks and challenges with a critical eye. "They must compare how ready they are to how ready they should have been," Wright said, adding that they'll likely take what they've learned remotely and move to automate several functions upon return to the office.