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Finance’s Expanding Borders

Most finance chiefs are taking on new responsibilities outside finance, a survey shows.
Alix StuartFebruary 7, 2011

If you’re a CFO at a small or midsize company and your role hasn’t expanded in the past two years, you might want to think twice.

A recent survey by Accenture of more than 1,000 CFOs at companies of all sizes found that the vast majority of them — more than 80% — have been asked to take on new responsibilities in areas outside of finance.

That trend held true at smaller companies — in every revenue category under $1 billion — as well as large. CFOs at companies with $100 million to $249 million in revenues seemed to have the most opportunities: only 9% said their responsibilities remained unchanged, compared with 19% at companies with $500 million to $999 million in revenues. Virtually no one said their roles had diminished.

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“The key messages are really the same at small and large companies,” says Paul Boulanger, global managing director of Accenture’s finance and performance management group. “Challenges in the business environment over the past 24 months have driven CFOs to play a bigger role in profitability, though that takes different forms in different industries.”

Among the top areas for finance to expand into at small and midsize companies are information technology, client services, strategy and business development, operations, and marketing and sales (see table below).

At the same time, CFOs at smaller companies are focusing hard on how to improve the finance function itself. Between 70% and 80% of CFOs at midsize companies (those with $100 million to $1 billion in revenues) said they needed the finance function to be more flexible, which Boulanger says often means turning to outsourcing or shared services. In the full survey, more than 40% of CFOs said they have increased their use of outsourcing or shared services, while another 40% plan to do so in the next 18 months. “Small companies can’t push as far down that path,” notes Boulanger, “but where they have the scale, it’s still of value to them.”

Approximately the same percentage (between 70% and 85%) of CFOs at midsize companies said they have needed to make changes to the financial planning and forecasting function in the past 18 months. Boulanger says that often means “industrializing” the planning process, upgrading its technology from a morass of spreadsheets to a software tool and incorporating macroeconomic indicators that may not be on the sales team’s radar screens.

Expanding Responsibilities