Home Insights People, processes and profitability: What it takes to be a revolutionary CFO

People, processes and profitability: What it takes to be a revolutionary CFO

By Gerhard Hartman, Vice President, Medium Business, Sage Africa & Middle East

Gerhard Hartman, Vice President, Medium Business, Sage Africa & Middle East

Chief Financial Officers (CFO) have played an invaluable role during the COVID-19 pandemic, steering businesses through disruption and making the tough decisions required to ensure business continuity. However, it takes a unique class of CFOs to pull a business out of survival mode back into growth, to establish competitive differentiation and innovation.

Businesses have aimed to navigate uncertainty and economic disruption for more than a year now. Although, this doesn’t mean that the foreseeable future is any more certain. Perhaps the biggest responsibility CFOs have today, is to predict the future ahead in order to put their business on the best possible footing to meet it. In this new climate, that may mean transforming the company from the ground up. To achieve this shift, a revolutionary CFO must surround themselves with the best people – and know how to look after them – to make sure everyone is equipped with the right tools and technologies for the job.

An analyst from the future

CFOs need data and insights to drive critical decision-making that could change the face of a company. Yet, 70% of CFOs still make decisions based on gut feeling and experience. While intuition and experience remain essential qualities in a CFO, decisions now also need to be backed-up with data. Such data should be more than just information on the business’s past performance. CFOs must pay close attention to what’s happening around them, in real-time, and anticipate what may change in the future. 

Today’s revolutionary CFOs do not make long-term decisions looking at the rear-view mirror. They leverage data and predictive analytics to look ahead and chart a new direction for the business. When everything works together, the value is immense. Data-driven companies are 23 times more likely to acquire customers and 19 times likelier to be successful, however most CFOs are aware that good data can be hard to find. Relevant and valuable information is often spread across a myriad of different silos and departments – shared among the company, its partners, and customers – with no thread connecting it all together. 

To access and understand this precious insight, a revolutionary CFO must use every tool in their arsenal. This includes cloud platforms that connect disparate data environments together, but also AI tools that can achieve what people are incapable of doing individually. Robo-advisors and virtual assistants, for example, can instantly send automated messages triggered by customer behaviour. This is true real-time intelligence. When a CFO understands what’s happening in their company, industry and marketplace timeously, they gain a powerful head-start on the competition.

A voice for tech-enabled change

It’s important, however, that CFOs don’t keep all this insight and technology to themselves. Revolutionary CFOs understand that they aren’t the sole fount of insight and innovation and that opportunities can come from anywhere and can be discovered by anyone within a business. As one of the most important decision-makers in finalising where investments should go, CFOs should be evangelists for the technologies they’re confident can help the company. In addition, they should push to democratise access to technology at all levels within the company. 

When times are tough, the most obvious strategy is to cut costs and find efficiencies. However, to make a business stronger and more competitive in the future, now is the time to invest in staff and the tools they can leverage to make their work more productive and efficient. 

During the pandemic, investment has largely been centered around digital collaboration and video conferencing platforms. Going forward, CFOs should seriously consider automation solutions that streamline processes, and sentiment analysis tools that help keep employees happy, healthy and productive. With investment predicted to exceed $125bn by 2025, AI represents the next frontier in technology investment and CFOs will be crucial to driving cutting-edge technology implementation forward.

Revolutionary means being a ‘people person’

Technology is crucial, but it’s only part of the story. Behind every revolutionary CFO is a uniquely talented team of individuals that share the same tools and insights. This invariably means that a great CFO also must be an excellent people manager. CFOs require the willingness to learn from those around them, and the tenacity to seek out the best people to listen to.

Empathy is vital. The pandemic has put pressure on us all, and no one has been impacted in the same way. Approachability and flexibility are essential attributes today. While they may not always realise it, CFOs play a significant role in establishing a company’s culture. Every decision they make – from sharing financial results with employees to rigorously challenging budget approvals – impacts the workplace. Influential leaders understand how these decisions cascade and affect the people around them and moderate their behaviour accordingly.

Today’s CFO has to wear multiple hats. They need to be forecasters, analysts, advocates for technology and the glue that holds their teams together. That’s an enormous amount of responsibility for one person, but it’s also a great source of power. CFOs in the upcoming post-pandemic recovery phase have a unique opportunity to transform the business and to leave it in a better position than they found it. 

About Sage:

Sage is the global market leader for technology that provides small and medium businesses with the visibility, flexibility and efficiency to manage finances, operations and people. With our partners, Sage is trusted by millions of customers worldwide to deliver the best cloud technology and support. Our years of experience mean that our colleagues and partners understand how to serve our customers and communities through the good, and more challenging times. We are here to help, with practical advice, solutions, expertise and insight.

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