The growing range of CFO responsibilities beyond finance and operations and the interconnected nature of the initiatives they oversee — including technology — are slowing the pace of decision making, according to a recent Accenture study .
“CFOs today have a unique vantage point,” with responsibility for financial discipline and analytics, said Jason Dess, a senior managing director at Accenture and one of the authors of the study. “The burden on CFOs is increasing in breadth.”
Given their mix of skills and responsibilities, CFOs are called upon to “connect the dots” in ways other C-suite counterparts cannot, adding to the weight of decisions they make, he added.
As a result, over two thirds (67%) of CFOs said they felt paralyzed by “the number of decisions and volume of choices they need to make,” the study said.
The October study, titled “The Paradox of Choice for CFOs,” is based on a survey of 100 global CFOs across various industries. Nearly two-thirds of CFOs polled were from companies with at least $5 billion in revenues.
CFOs experience decision making challenges from concurrently leading several large-scale organizational change initiatives, the study said. Half of CFOs surveyed said they were leading digital transformation efforts and workforce change initiatives, while 57% said they were leading sustainability efforts.
The right call
The emergence of the CFO as a front-and-center leader was also highlighted in other recent Accenture CFO studies. Research published by the firm in 2021 found that they can take on three critical cross-cutting responsibilities: economic guardian; architect of business value; and catalyst of digital strategy. More than 70% of CFOs polled for that study said they had the “final say” on the technology direction of the enterprise.
Accenture’s October CFO study offers three strategies to manage the decision-making paralysis that CFOs can face: concurrently working on business-as-usual and business transformation initiatives and prioritizing activities accordingly; gaining a better grip on how leadership styles may facilitate or hinder decision making; and addressing organizational complexity that can get in the way of execution.
“This complexity [of decisions] can unlock greater value for stakeholders. But it also can create greater risk,” the study said. “It puts CFOs under more pressure than ever before to make the right call.”
CFOs’ cross-functional expertise makes them prime candidates for advancement to chief executive roles. Without the right strategy, however, it can cause challenges. Only 8% of CFOs-tuned-CEOs steered their organizations to the top quartile of performance, according to research from consulting firm Spencer Stuart, CFO Dive reported in August.
On technology decisions, Accenture advises CFOs to refrain from looking at initiatives such as cloud and security approaches solely from a cost optimization lens. On technology platforms, it advises CFOs to “establish a multiyear technology strategy with a cloud-based enterprise resource planning as the foundation,” while refraining from delaying necessary investments.
CFOs also need to be champions of data management, AI and enterprise-wide approaches to managing security and risk, the study noted.