DNA of the CFO: As the CFO role blurs, how can future finance leaders find focus?

Authors

Tony Klimas

EY Global Performance Improvement Finance Leader

Focused on bringing the best we have to offer to CFOs and other finance leaders.

Myles Corson

EY Americas Markets Leader, Financial Accounting Advisory Services

Supporter of finance leaders and functions of today and tomorrow. Global citizen. Podcast host. Curious mind. Father of two energetic boys.

4 minute read 8 Feb 2019
Related topics Finance Innovation Advisory

The digital age is disrupting the traditional career path of the CFO, so the ambitious financial executive will need to think creatively about getting to the top.  

As disruption unfolds, transparency issues gain reach and regulation spreads, the world is in flux for finance leaders. How organizations deliver value is being reset for a digital age. Forcing the blur is the increasing amount of risk, connected and volatile markets and the rapid advance of technology. To reinvent itself for a new age, the finance function is transforming into a data-driven decision center, where smart people and smart machines help make better financial, strategic and operational decisions.

This is part three of The DNA of the CFO study. Read the rest of the series:

 To learn more, download part 3 of our report here.

To have the potential to reach this role, aspiring CFOs must have a clear development strategy that addresses current needs and future concerns. However, the traditional linear career path has already been disrupted by shared services centers, which now manage a majority of transactional finance tasks. This trend will continue as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) adoption becomes more widespread.

Incumbent CFOs will also need to think differently about how to coach high-potential staff from finance or elsewhere to build the skills to become CFOs of tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s finance leader

Ambitious finance executives are going to have to be determined and creative in defining their route to the top. They will need to embrace uncertainty and take calculated risks in their career planning and how they build their personal brand. There are two criteria the qualified professional must meet to become the CFO if the future: capabilities and leadership. Fulfilling those measures means following certain guiding principles:

  1. Capabilities: Build your “passport” to the CFO role

    The future CFO brings a breadth of finance and non-finance experiences and capabilities, new perspectives, know-how and a degree of creativity to the CFO role and the risks and opportunities of the organization.

    In a world where the traditional linear career path for finance leaders has been upended, today’s aspiring finance leaders need to define a more forward-looking and mobile career path that builds capability in key areas beyond finance, such as operations, customer and commercial focus, business partnering, strategy and transformation.
  2. Leadership: Learn to behave like a leader

    A top finance executive inspires and motivates high-performing finance teams, leading change, shaping and embodying a dynamic culture, and setting out a compelling vision that helps to navigate change.

    It is never too early to start practicing leadership behaviors. Aspiring finance leaders should put together a leadership development plan, drawing on a mix of interventions, including experiential and academic training, mentoring and managing change projects.

 

Ambitious CFOs will need to embrace uncertainty and take calculated risks in their career planning and how they build their personal brand.

Strengthening innovation and creativity in the CFO role

A relatively recent evolution of the CFO’s role has been the need for innovation and creativity. They are being asked to find innovative solutions to key business issues, such as designing and delivering new digital business models – and this at a time when regulatory scrutiny and the need for proactive risk management is increasing.

CFOs have always had to find the right line between risk and reward. However, achieving the right balance between the two has become more delicate yet less distinct, as CFOs have become more involved in strategy development and driving growth.

Finance officers also need to be more imaginative and adaptable in how they manage their own careers, which also involves greater risk. Acknowledging, addressing and cultivating this innovation dimension of the means thinking and planning differently about the career path, which includes taking more calculated risks. Finance leaders need to identify, welcome and leverage different perspectives from outside the function, globally and across sectors.

Among the sample of 173 finance leaders at large organizations (with annual revenue greater than US$5b) in our survey:

  • 64% have “worked in more than one sector”
  • 53% have “significant experience working in different international environments”
  • 43% have “significant business experience gained in roles outside finance”

What constitutes finance leadership is becoming more diverse, as incumbents respond to a range of pressures, from digital to data. As a result, it is now more likely than ever that the career development path to a senior finance role will flex and shift, based on variables that include market context, personal ambition and the expressed or implied expectations of key stakeholders in the process, such as CEOs to supervisory boards.

Summary

The road to the modern CFO appointment curves more than ever, and creativity – a quality that may have once been discouraged – along with innovation and imagination will be key tools for getting there. To learn more, download part 3 (pdf) of our three-part DNA of the CFO report.

About this article

Authors

Tony Klimas

EY Global Performance Improvement Finance Leader

Focused on bringing the best we have to offer to CFOs and other finance leaders.

Myles Corson

EY Americas Markets Leader, Financial Accounting Advisory Services

Supporter of finance leaders and functions of today and tomorrow. Global citizen. Podcast host. Curious mind. Father of two energetic boys.

Related topics Finance Innovation Advisory