An Americas supplement to The DNA of the CFO

Views. Vision. Insights.

The evolving role of today's CFO

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During the past two years, we have conducted a series of research studies to deepen understanding of the role and responsibilities of today's CFO.

"As CFO, I'm in a unique position within the organization, at the absolute center of the universe. The only other executive besides me that has that same presence at the center is the CEO."
- Bruce Besanko, OfficeMax

The DNA of the CFO: a study of what makes a chief financial officer, was based on a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit of 669 top finance executives across EMEIA, and on a series of in-depth interviews we conducted after the survey results were delivered. Published in 2010, The DNA of the CFO addresses the role and responsibilities of the contemporary CFO, and provides insights into these executives' career aspirations.

Finance forte: the future of finance leadership, published in mid-2011, includes findings from a survey of more than 530 group CFOs and their direct reports in EMEIA. This report sought to establish what skills will be required of individuals in the CFO role in the future, and what provisions today's companies are making to identify and develop future finance leaders.

In the fall of 2011, we embarked on an effort to qualify and deepen our research findings in EMEIA by conducting one-on-one interviews with CFOs of top organizations in the Americas. This effort has resulted in our current report, Views. Vision. Insights. The evolving role of today's CFO.

The CFO role is evolving

The report provides a fascinating glimpse into the thinking of contemporary CFOs with regard to:

  • The scope of their responsibilities
  • The skill sets required for the role
  • The development of future CFOs
  • The career aspirations of today's CFO

Based on our research, it is clear that the CFO role at today's leading companies is evolving. Alongside their traditional mandate to provide financial insights and analysis and insights, CFOs describe a greater involvement in supporting and even developing strategy, guiding key business initiatives.

CFOs must be versatile individuals with the talent to meet a continually changing set of circumstances. The mood in today's markets may be more optimistic than it was when our first EMEIA surveys were conducted, but it is certainly not carefree.

Today's CFOs must still attend closely to cash flows, controls, costs and risk. At the same time, they continue to seek profitable growth — both in mature markets and in those that hold the promise of rapid growth.

Key findings

Our CFO interviewees bring diverse backgrounds to their roles; correspondingly, there are differences in attitude, relative affinity for certain roles and tasks and approach. Nevertheless, CFOs in the Americas generally corroborated the findings of our surveys in EMEIA:

  • CFOs increasingly contribute to organizational strategy, and are meeting unprecedented demand for their unique perspective and discipline.
  • The CFO remains an objective voice on financial performance but contributes to operational decision-making as well. CFOs manage or materially support information technology, investor relations, real estate and strategic M&A — and some are involved in commercial activities.
  • Fundamental skills in finance are still paramount. Our respondents unanimously insist that these skills are imperative.
  • The necessity of controlling cost, managing risk and maintaining liquidity were brought to the foreground by the financial crisis — and this necessity persists.
  • Job satisfaction is high — and the role is certainly considered by some as a final career destination. But the tone struck by some Americas CFOs signals a difference from their EMEIA* colleague with regard to their long- term aspirations. Most would consider a CEO role; some expressly aspire to it.
  • Most CFOs believe they have viable internal candidates to succeed them in their role, but few organizations have identified a specific candidate or have a formal plan to prepare their next CFO.
  • Communications skills are an imperative, as CFOs must convey complex financial results and business performance to external stakeholders while championing specific initiatives internally.
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* EMEIA: Europe, the Middle East, India, Africa

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