A new breed of CFO is needed as organizations prioritize technology skills along with financial experience, research from advisory services and technology companies shows.
“It’s becoming evident that CFOs with non-traditional skills or responsibilities are needed to shape a successful future,” says a report from Sage, a technology company that polled 1,900 finance leaders across industries and countries. “The CFO has become a hub of business information, diversifying their expertise, recruiting the right talent and ensuring they implement emerging technologies and purpose-driven programs to remove friction and deliver insights.”
The redefinition of CFO duties means U.S. finance leaders are including in their top priorities the upgrading of technology solutions to drive digitalization, integrating emerging technologies into their company and developing products and services.
The view of CFOs as financial purists has given way to the need to be well versed in other skills, including HR, operations and sales and marketing, the report says.
For tech-savvy CFOs, the future is full of opportunities, not roadblocks. Almost 60% say they feel embedded into nearly every aspect of business operations and almost two in five expect AI and machine learning to have a major impact on their organization’s ability to create or maintain a competitive advantage.
A lack of readiness in those areas, the study warns, could result in their organizations losing customers and becoming vulnerable to digital threats.
Candidates for finance teams with a strong AI pedigree were even more appealing than strong finance candidates willing to train and develop AI skills around the globe, the survey found.
It also found finance professionals globally are active in cryptocurrency and two-fifths say they have used cryptocurrency as payment for personal transactions.
What’s more, nearly half have personally invested in the asset while another half plan to do so.
Digital skills essential
Pointing out the greater need for tech expertise, Alexander Bant, Gartner’s chief of research for CFOs, said 69% of boards have spotlighted digital acceleration as their number one objective.
“This requires more than great business cases, cost management and investment oversight,” Bant said in an email. “It requires CFOs that can speak the language of digital strategy across the C-suite to help finance enable strategies across the enterprise.”
The Gartner expert called digital skills the building blocks that a successful CFO needs to drive profitable growth today.
In its own report on the trend, Gartner warned low digital proficiency prevents finance teams from using technologies to drive efficiency, generate high-quality insights and generate those insights quickly.
The most important digital competencies for finance operations, Gartner cited in the study, are technological literacy, digital translation, digital learning and development, digital bias management and digital ambition.
“These competencies enable finance teams to use robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to improve process efficiency, insight quality and the speed at which they provide insight to decision makers,” the report said.
The need to boost digital skills is particularly acute because without it, finance teams can’t maximize the tools available to them today. Among other things, teams can’t be effective at using RPA, ML and NLP, all of which are increasingly important if finance is going to be efficient, have quality insight and be quick with insights for decision makers.
Emphasizing how much CFOs need to be more than the person behind the numbers, Robert Half Senior Recruiting Manager Kathleen Downs called tech a new must-have skill.
“We see this a lot when it comes to cybersecurity,” she said. “The CFO of the organizations needs to be involved from day one — not only in having the ability to purchase the right technology to safeguard an organization, but to have the right people in place. With many of these attacks, there has to be a budget and plan and that’s the CFO’s responsibility. You can’t be reactionary.”
“Many CFOs want to have a natural progression to CEOs at some point in their careers,” she said. “To do that, they need to have an all-encompassing view of the organization, and many are forming close bonds with the tech leaders, HR business partners and others to understand all lines of business and how each impacts one another.”