The Modern CFO: A Conduit for business transformation

Jordaan Burger, Vice President Finance, Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific at Sage, speaks about the evolution of the role of CFO

Finance leaders aspiring to become a ‘modern CFO’/ CFOs looking to digital transformation to become the ever more strategic partner of the CEO

In recent years, Chief Financial Officers have seen their role evolve like never before. From their beginnings as historians of financial data and past performance, they evolved to real-time analysts, and onto visionaries with predictive technologies at their fingertips.

Having looked at the past, present and future, where is the next focus for CFOs?

The modern CFO adds ‘mastery of technology’ to their tool kit, redefining their understanding of the trends, challenges, and opportunities behind the numbers they’ve always counted on.

On a par with CEOs, they are now some of the most influential leaders and figureheads, armed with technology-enabled insights to tell the story of their company’s financial health. They are firmly in the driving seat of business transformation. To bring this new identity to life, let’s paint a picture of how the modern CFO works, day to day.

At the heart of the company

Today’s CFO isn’t hard to find. They are highly visible on the company floor, talking to people of all levels, listening, and responding to requests from across the business. They lead from the front.

As the CEOs indispensable confidant, the CFO can often be found by their side, influencing strategic decision making with the company’s overall financial data front of mind. With digital technologies at their fingertips, the CFOs ability to present accurate, concise, and relevant financial data supports the CEO to make big decisions in a timely manner.

Yet, the modern CFO is far from an exclusive figure. They also interact continuously with teams across the organisation, from sales and customer services to marketing and HR, gaining an understanding of how future investments in technology and talent could elevate teams to reach new levels. Interconnected cloud platforms and applications enable the CFO to immerse themselves in any business function to truly understand their financial performance, challenges, and opportunities.

CFOs have found their place at the heart of the company – both literally and metaphorically. This central position is their route to leading better-informed decisions on whole-company strategies and policies.

Confident decision maker

The modern CFO is not working alone but instead bringing their human teams together with emerging technology. AI and machine learning are helping their human colleagues, CFOs included, to predict, project, and plan for the future.

The CFO is operating in an environment that can enable fast, efficient, large-scale data processing to produce accurate insights. Not only that, but these technologies get to know the business as they go, becoming more refined and delivering better insights over time as the AI learns.

Critically, CFOs are bastions of long-term strategy and vision. You won’t find them sweating the small stuff. Reading every line in the ledger is out because AI technologies have the power to do that more quickly and more accurately, before flagging any anomalies. When an anomaly is found, only then will a CFO need to step in and fix the problem quickly.

Being well-informed is a surefire way to make good decisions. Plus, with the time CFOs save on digitalizing the proofing of ledger lines and other repetitive manual tasks, they can invest in their people. This means they can be part of more customer conversations, more colleague brainstorms, and shareholder interactions, through which they can both develop key relationships and exert their data-inspired influence.

A trusted force in an era of disruption and change

The modern CFO has a knack of always making the right decision. Not only that, but people trust their judgement, and are happy when they lead.

Why? Because the influence of data driven insights upon CFOs is clear. They have taken into account not only financial data but aggregated data from across the entire business, earning the trust of each department as they go.

This birds’ eye view of the business means that, when they want change to happen, it happens fast and effectively across multiple business units. This is not only because they have the right technologies in place to get the job done, but also because the whole business is riding the wave of transformation, together. No team is left in the dark – today’s CFO ensures everyone understands the drivers for change and is transparent about how they will reach success.

Not all change can be controlled, of course. And when a business is hit with unforeseen changes, the CFO reacts with lightning speed because they’re already working with a future-focused approach. This is thanks to predictive capabilities, planned contingencies, financial projections, and strategies they can see before them, in the form of AI-driven insights.

Indeed, when disruption strikes unexpectedly, they have the freedom to consider a responsible approach that cares not only for finances, but for people, by carefully managing expectations to avoid panic. They have empathy and understanding, keeping all teams in the loop as to what the change means for them, while also planning ahead to best protect the business from such situations from happening again.

CFOs have the opportunity to see the bigger picture

The modern CFO is more visible, more confident, and more trusted than those which came before. They have what it takes to lead their business through transformation by relying on quality insights which empower them to be ever more strategic.

From the past, to the present, to the future and now stepping back to see the bigger picture, the modern CFO is always looking forward, driving the company to achieve bolder goals than ever before.