Date posted: 14/10/2019 5 min read

Now and then: How the role of a strategic CFO has changed over time

In the current technological climate, CFO’s are having to look at their roles through a strategic, value creation lens. What does it all mean for the future of the role of the CFO?

In Brief

  • The CFO role has evolved from number cruncher towards a trusted, strategic value advisor
  • The CFO of today is a data storyteller, a business visionary and technology strategist
  • Keeping your network up-to-date on technology trends can present opportunities for financial professionals

Marc Rivers, CFO at Fonterra, has held senior financial leadership positions in global companies for more than 20 years. Over the course of his career, he has seen firsthand how technology has enabled CFOs to increase their potential to deliver more strategic value to their organisations.

Joyce Wong has been CFO at VYNE Digital since 2018, with a background in auditing, financial management and accounting. She leverages technology to tell stories from data and become a trusted strategic advisor to the business.

We speak to Wong & Rivers ahead of the 2019 NZ Accounting Conference session on 'Paving your pathway to a strategic CFO' in November, which will explore the changing role of a CFO, and insights on how finance can best innovate and adapt to meet the current and future needs of the organisations that they work in.

The trusted, strategic advisor

Rivers remembers when CFOs were largely considered as 'number cruncher' analysts who prepared the company financials and could answer the technical reporting questions. Today, he characterises the CFO role as a trusted, strategic advisor, who understands an entire business and can simplify and solve complex business problems in a technology-driven world. "Over the last twenty years, the expectations of the CFO role have changed. People have increasingly realised that businesses are multidimensional and complex, and CFOs have been increasingly relied upon to determine appropriate business strategies," Rivers says. For Wong, technology has enabled the CFO of today to be a strategic partner to the visionary CEO.

"You can now trust software to do a lot of your financial analysis and reporting, which frees up your strategic mind to add value to the business with big picture thinking. The CFO is the co-pilot to the CEO, and by thinking about the business holistically, you can steer it towards the strategic vision," Wong says.

"People have increasingly realised that businesses are multidimensional and complex, and CFOs have been increasingly relied upon to determine appropriate business strategies."
Marc Rivers, CFO at Fonterra

Data storytelling

Big data has increasingly become a powerful tool in strategic financial decision making, and both Rivers and Wong now rely on immense volumes of data to inform their strategies.

However, they both agree that without an ability to accurately interpret and analyse, data is significantly less helpful and relevant. CFOs need to be able to produce actionable insights from data sets that can guide and enable strategic visions.

"Don't collect data for data's sake, because why have data if you can't do anything with it? Finance professionals need to be able to ask the right questions and see patterns within data. If they can do that, then they can produce powerful insights," Rivers says.

In her current role, Wong has benefited from working closely with her data analytics teams to inform her strategy and identify opportunities for efficiencies and growth. She believes a CFO needs to be able to take findings from data, make the data easily understandable in solving business problems.

"It's about being able to tell a story from numbers in a way other stakeholders and shareholders will understand the significance. Working closely with data analytics experts enables me to better leverage relevant insights," Wong says.

The future-proofed professional

The rise of AI and automation technology has impacted finance roles, in particular, liberating accounting professionals from some of the tedious admin burden and data entry that traditionally fell to manual execution.

Technology will likely only continue to change the finance and accounting landscape into the future and the need to stay up to date with the latest advancements and their potential applications is now an important facet of a financial professional's career.

Wong keeps up with the latest trends by networking, especially seeking advice from technology experts and speaking regularly with her professional mentors. She believes there's an opportunity for finance professionals to add value by becoming the 'tech expert' within their network.

"It helps that I'm genuinely interested in technology and entrepreneurship, but I am lucky to have mentors who constantly have their finger on the pulse, and love talking about it. There's certainly an opportunity for individuals to fill that knowledge gap within their professional circle," Wong says.

In addition to technological expertise, Rivers sees soft skills becoming increasingly important, in particular the ability to work well with others.

"The hard part is building soft skills that make you an effective collaborator. Because the kind of roles we are seeing more of are within multidisciplinary teams where soft skills like communication and relationship building are essential to success," Rivers explains.

Despite being able to see the future potential of technology, Wong agrees there's no substitute for good communication.

"Robots can't replicate being a good human, at least not yet," she says.

Accounting Conference 2019

Want to learn more about the pathway to a strategic CFO? Join us at the Accounting Conference in November.

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