The following is a contributed article from Shawn Cole, president and CFO search practice managing partner at Cowen Partners Executive Search. Opinions expressed are author's own.
There’s a CFO crisis today. Two-thirds of CEOs believe the CFO role will continue increasing in significance but a third think their CFO isn’t up to the challenge. That’s because the global economy requires CFOs to bring creativity, communication, and technological skills to the table, while the traditional CFO is grounded in risk aversion and crisis management. Where do you fall on this spectrum?
The massive shift in CFO responsibility stems from an unpredictable economic landscape, driven most recently by the monumental financial disruption of COVID-19.
Today, business growth and longevity require great financial risk. The marketplace is much more volatile than before and technology has globalized every industry, which deepens, expands, and complicates market niches and competition. Advanced technology, among other factors, has created a need for what KPMG has called the "Renaissance CFO."
What do successful CFOs today look like? More than accountants, they’re a partner to the CEO, an organization's vocal leader, and an action-based executive within the context of a company’s structure.
What was once the highlight of a CFO’s resume — extensive financial management and accounting experience — is now a minimum requirement. Having a strong accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system management background no longer holds any guarantees. ERP experience is now a prerequisite, not unlike having an accounting or finance degree.
What we’re seeing at my company, an executive placement firm, is that CFOs, when they join a company, are inheriting ERP selection and implementation initiatives as part of their organization’s data automation, analytics, and forecasting goals.
That’s part of a trend in which technology is permeating every facet of commerce and generating increased opportunities for gains and losses. The predominance of technology determines everything from advertising and marketing to sales to internal operations, and it has the potential to make or break a company.
Today’s unpredictable technology-driven market means companies need to constantly cultivate stronger connections between departments that result in more strategic and organized operations. CFOs play an integral role in cohesive company management.
Even more importantly, CEOs are looking for someone who understands how to leverage technology to improve data analysis, strategy development, risk management, and communication within departments. They want a CFO to bring a wealth of both financial and non-financial expertise, innate creativity, and technological prowess to the table. They expect CFOs to use their abilities to implement meaningful, data-driven, and company-wide initiatives.
Additionally, CEOs need CFOs that understand the global, changing market. They want CFOs who can use their understanding of emerging markets and new industry players to modify company strategy at a moment’s notice. Flexibility, creativity, and craftiness are three of the most in-demand soft skill sets to bring to a CFO role in 2020.
These abilities are a far cry from the isolated financial expertise of the traditional CFO and crucial when it comes to crisis management and setting a successful growth strategy. You can have decades of diverse financial management experience and get nowhere near a CFO office in today’s economic climate if you don’t bring the ability to modify your company’s growth strategy in the face of new competitors.
CFOs face the enormous task of acting as a bridge between daily operations, long-term strategy, and financial goals. The role of a CFO is no longer about signing off on expenses and monitoring budgetary concerns. Rather, the modern CFO must analyze their company’s cash flow with effective and cutting-edge technologies, and collaborate with other executives to develop short-term and long-term plans that safeguard a company’s assets, without compromising the CEO’s vision.
That might seem daunting, but the role has never been more exciting, engaging, or unlimited in its potential to make a tangible impact on company growth and performance.