The DNA of the CFO

The CFO's contribution to strategy

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Much has been reported about the increasingly strategic nature of a CFO’s role. However, the commentary on the CFO’s migration from scorekeeper to strategist is now in need of an update, or at least, a clarification. 

What is the precise contribution that the CFO makes to strategy? Is the role of managing the numbers of less value than strategic advisor? Does developing strategy mean setting the long-term vision, or is this still the domain of the CEO — to be the big “blue sky” thinker?

The CFO is ideally placed to play a central role in strategy formulation. However, there is a wide variation among different finance leaders on the exact nature of their contribution to strategy.

Around one-third of CFOs say they play an active role in developing and defining the overall strategy for their organization. But, for a greater proportion, their contribution focuses on providing insight and analysis to support the CEO and ensuring that business decisions are grounded in sound financial criteria.

For leading CFOs, this goes beyond being an “information provider” or “aggregator presenter.” Their commercial understanding and analytical skills mean that this proactive, yet supporting, role is a vital part of understanding how different decisions will lead to certain outcomes.

Areas where respondents believe they play a leading role in corporate strategy (percentage)

EY - Areas where respondents believe they play a leading role in corporate strategy

Shown: Percentage of respondents
Base: all respondents (669)

The qualities of a “strategy developer”

Our survey tells us that:

  • Roughly one-third of CFOs in our survey play a major role in the development of organizational strategy. Strategy developers are on average more satisfied with their remit, compensation and the resources for the finance function.
  • They are happier with their potential for career development.
  • They are significantly more likely to have a strong relationship with the CEO and other C-level colleagues.
  • They are more likely to measure their own performance on improvement to the organization’s financial metrics.
  • There is no distinct relationship between the strategy developers and size of organization.
  • They tend to be slightly older and more broadly educated but are less likely to be chartered accountants or PhDs.