As companies struggle to meet the challenges of the digital economy, CFOs are increasingly concerned that their organizations may not be keeping pace with new business realities, regulatory changes and a quickly evolving digital landscape. That’s according to a recent survey by Protiviti and North Carolina State University’s Enterprise Risk Management Initiative. [1] Interestingly, the CFOs’ top concerns reflected in the survey results have very little to do with accounting or financial reporting.

Risk concerns were consistent across geographies and industries, with CFOs and chief audit executives showing a heightened concern relative to their C-suite peers and increasing levels of concern year over year. These results were consistent with a previous survey of finance leaders conducted by Protiviti earlier in the year. [2]

Top global risks according to finance executives include macroeconomic worries about an economic downturn that might significantly restrict growth opportunities, and a concern about the potential for regulatory changes and tightening scrutiny. Rounding out the top five are concerns about organizational resistance to change, the ability to attract and retain top talent, and cybersecurity.

Top Risks according to CFOs
  1. Economic conditions may significantly restrict growth opportunities.
  2. Regulatory changes and scrutiny may impact operational resilience and production and delivery of products and services.
  3. Resistance to change may restrict organizational agility.
  4. Succession challenges and ability to attract and retain top talent may be more difficult.
  5. Cyber threat preparations may be inadequate to prevent brand-damaging disruptions to core operations.
More Holistic Concerns

Increasingly, CFOs are granted a seat at the table for strategic risk discussions. That, in turn, has led them to become more focused on strategic concerns outside of their traditional purview.

stock and other capital markets, while up net, have been up and down, with indicators becoming unpredictable at times. That has made it increasingly difficult to forecast financial results, especially under new accounting rules on things like expected credit losses, which require forward-looking data modeling.

Public companies have recently been through a series of accounting changes which were designed to provide investors with a more realistic picture of a company’s true financial position. At the same time, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has come up with a raft of new audit disclosures that must be included in financial reports, including the publication of critical audit matters (CAMs) – major concerns raised during an external audit regarding matters requiring significant auditor discretion or judgment.

But beyond those financial reporting matters, even broader responsibilities require a broader talent pool for finance organizations. As stakeholders increasingly rely on the finance department for data analytics and strategic forecasting, CFOs are becoming concerned about their ability to attract and retain data scientists and other top talent required to make optimal use of new tools and interpret that data in meaningful ways. At the same time, there are concerns that existing staff may be too set in their ways and resistant to change to effectively meet the challenges of digital transformation. Under their expanding role as strategic risk analysts and advisers, CFOs’ concern for resistance to change extends beyond their own departments as they have to weigh and estimate the danger of cultural challenges stymieing innovation and transformation.

From a security perspective, strategic-thinking CFOs are not only concerned about the obvious issues of data security and privacy, but also the brand damage that could occur as a result of a data breach. This comes in the midst of a growing demand for more timely and accurate data and data analytics from internal and external stakeholders.

All of these broader, proactive concerns are, of course, in addition to the traditional reporting obligations that remain at the core of a finance executive’s responsibilities. Getting all of the historical activities expected of finance organizations right is part of the baseline expectations, with new strategic data requirements adding to their mandate.

Mitigation

Stakeholders are increasingly looking to CFOs to not only help identify strategic risks, but also to provide advice on how to mitigate those threats. The first step is to benchmark yourself: Seek information from a variety of sources and peer studies to stay abreast of current risks.

Keep an eye out for practical use cases and ways in which others have addressed your concerns. It’s no longer enough to keep a narrow focus on financial reporting and products and services. CFOs need to be able to articulate what they are doing and why, how it compares to what others are doing, and develop responsive strategies to address risks in ways that improve financial resiliency. Proofs of concept should be tested and proven in practice to create confidence that plans will be effective.

Finally, while there was general agreement in our surveys and across the C-suite on what the risks were, there were significant differences in perception of how serious those risks are. It would be a good idea for CFOs to confer with other executives within their organizations to establish a firm grip on the risk universe and to ensure that everyone is aligned and working together on the same top priorities, and with the same urgency.

Table: Perception of Risk Severity Among the Executive Suite

For more information, visit protiviti.com

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[1] “Executive Perspectives on Top Risks 2020,” http://protiviti.com/sites/default/files/nc-state-protiviti-survey-top-risks-2020.pdf

 

[2] “2019 Finance Trends Survey,” https://www.protiviti.com/US-en/insights/finance-priorities-survey