- CFOs have taken on more operational and strategic planning duties as their organizations try to manage through the downturn, finance professionals told consultancy Korn Ferry.
- They predict the expanded responsibilities will continue to be part of the core of their work long after the crisis passes.
- Almost half (45%) of the 276 CFOs surveyed from December to February said the two capabilities most critical to their future are their operations (such as reporting and analytics), and their role in helping make the C-suite’s strategy a reality.
CFOs' two biggest concerns are organizational alignment (23%) and the need to align finance with overall business strategy (13%).
"CFOs need to be more generalists. They need to go beyond their traditional sandbox. Just reporting numbers doesn’t add value," Barry Toren, Korn Ferry’s financial officer practice leader for North America, told CFO Dive.
Toren was instrumental in producing the study that highlights the pandemic's role in furthering the inroads of CFOs into operations and strategy that has been taking place since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted in 2002 in the wake of the Enron scandal.
To prepare for their added responsibilities, and to make themselves more attractive candidates to become CEO (if they so wish), Toren urges CFOs to literally walk the halls, post-sheltering in place, and ask operational people what they want from finance they are not getting.
"Operations people don't want to be told what to do; they want support," Toren said, and CFOs need to see units of their companies as customers.
The need for enhanced coordination shows: 34% of CFOs surveyed said greater alignment on strategic initiatives would improve their relationships with the CEO. More than a quarter said they yearn for greater communication and face time.
The immediate COVID-19 operational and strategic concerns the CFOs told Korn Ferry they are facing include cash preservation, weighing the needs and advantages of furloughs versus layoffs and presenting more frequent and more understandable messages to a variety of stakeholders.
Long-term objectives CFOs said they must contend with range from reassessing investments, budgeting, and forecasting to what COVID-19 responses need to be part of their firms' lasting game plans.
The CFOs said they expected specialized finance expertise, like capital budgeting and allocation, financial governance, accounting services, and taxation, to become less integral to the profession.
About a third of the CFOs surveyed said greater alignment on strategic initiatives would improve their relationship with the CEO while a fourth said they wanted greater communication and more face time with the boss.
COVID-19 has led companies looking for CFOs to place a greater emphasis on personality and leadership abilities and less on specific finance experience, Toren said.