Earlier this spring, at the 2016 CFO of the Future Summit held at Harvard University, which was co-sponsored by Accenture Strategy, I had the privilege of meeting with current and next- generation leading CFOs to discuss the changing role of the CFO in a digital world. Among academics, finance executives, and other industry experts, we addressed how the finance function will change. Maybe even more important, we looked at what additional tasks and challenges finance executives will face in connection with the digitalization of their enterprises and ecosystems.
To best cope with digital-driven disruption, companies are looking for finance leaders who can adapt the enterprise to a changing environment. Moving through abrupt change, the senior finance executive of the future will look more progressive than the CFO of even just a year ago. The next generation finance chief would have to possess the following traits to succeed in bringing change to an organization:
· A visionary third eye for the future. It’s not sufficient for CFOs to base future patterns on past progress. The rear-view mirror is no longer helpful. Future CFOs will instead be asked to predict the future — to anticipate what’s to come and build changes into their organizations now to meet it successfully. Formerly known for being a left-brained analyzer, future CFOs will now need to incorporate that elusive, creative, right lobe.
·A shape-shifting mode for constant transformation. Future CFOs will be harnessing the power of Gen Y, Millennials, Gen Z, and beyond. Anything but a traditional workforce, these new team members will be asked to do what humans do best — from creativity to discernment — as artificial intelligence and machines take on many of the more rote, analytic tasks. To transform a hybrid workforce is no easy task. But CFOs will be required to develop traditionally detail-minded analysts into big-picture thinkers and communicators who focus on a strategic future.
· A magnetic field for the network economy. Gone are the days when a company operated independently. Future-oriented CFOs know the platform-based ecosystem model is the path to success — or at least the path away from extinction. The lines between competitor, customer, and supplier are blurring. Indeed, some organizations will function in all three capacities vis-a-vis any one company. Learning how to extract value from a networked group, rather than being able to just create it without interference is a key skill for future CFOs. Personal and organizational magnetism will be key to attracting the right network of ecosystem partners and moving into a shared future.
· A strong hand for governance. Future CFOs will need to manage risk and compliance including new perils and tasks driven by digitalization, redefine return on investment and other traditional measures of value, and rein in all finance-related roles, regardless of the titles and where they sit in the organization.
· Flexibility. CFOs of the future will need to responding dynamically to changing market conditions that require agile structures, systems, capabilities, processes, and teams. Using all the digital tools available, from predictive analytics to AI and robotics, finance chiefs will be coaching corporate staffs to respond in real time to constantly changing market conditions.
· An array of custom tools. From creating more agile back, middle, and front-office organizations to producing new business cases necessary in the new environment, finance chiefs will need to fashion business value using new methods. How do you create a business case for cloud computing or robotics? The old models will no longer suffice. Using digitalization tools, CFOs will craft value from the ground up. Very few of the old-school methods will still apply.
If you take all those traits into account, re-imagining the CFO as a Chief Growth Officer is not so far-fetched. Indeed, some already exist. The savvy executive is already creating disruption by making the best use of cost structures and improving margins, all the while creating top-line growth and innovation. In today’s environment, a finance chief focused solely on numbers cannot foster the innovation required for growth. New ideas and sources of revenue come from people.
Christian Campagna is a senior managing director, CFO & Enterprise Value, Accenture Strategy.