CFOs have more responsibilities than ever before

The finance chief stands at the intersection of technology and finance.
article cover

Dianna “Mick” McDougall

5 min read

Gone are the days of a backwards-looking CFO tasked with capturing past performance. Today’s CFOs are being called on to be future-focused strategic leaders who have a lot more responsibility—and expectations—than just crunching the numbers.

“The CFO of 20 years ago—or 15 years ago—was helping you look out the rearview mirror of your car,” said Ben Kessler, CFO and COO of 66Degrees, a Google Cloud computing advisory company headquartered in Chicago. “Now, it’s more about scaling and growing a business than it is just doing accounting activities.”

Changes and disruptions have rocked the business world at a dizzying pace over the last 10 years. Accelerating technological advances, worsening climate change, widening global inequality—not to mention a global pandemic, a ground war in Ukraine, and a looming recession—have made the world a lot more unstable.

And all this uncertainty and upheaval has helped to radically change the role of the CFO.

“The CFO is going to handle more business-oriented duties…than we’ve ever seen before,” Josh Crist, co-managing partner at Crist Kolder Associates, a boutique search firm that focuses on CFO and direct-report placement, told CFO Brew. The firm publishes an annual report on executive turnover in Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies. “We are essentially bringing on a CFO that doesn’t have the deep technical knowledge that you saw CFOs have 10–15 years ago.”

Instead, companies are hiring versatile CFOs with a deep understanding of, and broad experience with, multiple parts of a business—not just finance, according to a recent Deloitte CFO Insights report.

An April survey by McKinsey found that not only is the CFO’s role expanding, but they’re taking on responsibilities once considered part of the purview of a company’s CEO or COO.

“The message to finance professionals is that the breadth of skills required, the knowledge base you can gain, the types of roles you should aspire to play—that canvas is broader today than it ever was,” Ankur Agrawal, McKinsey partner, wrote in the study.

So amid all the disruption, and in addition to their traditional responsibilities of tending to their company’s financial health, CFOs are also driving digital transformations and becoming the organizational shepherds of data.

And, CFOs have more direct reports than ever before as well. Between 2018 and 2021, the McKinsey survey found that in addition to a 10% increase in the number of people working on mergers and acquisitions, there was a 4% increase in the number of IT personnel and a 7% increase in cybersecurity employees who report to the CFO.

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.

Along with more organizational oversight, businesses are looking to CFOs for data-driven strategic partnership, according to Deloitte. CFOs are being called upon to use their financial acumen, understanding of their company’s operations, people, market conditions, and data analysis to drive strategic decision-making.

“CFOs now are incorporating a framework that I like to call the empathetic, data-driven decision-making model that is really, I think, a catalyst and a transformative way of getting to decisions,” said Chris Ortega, CEO of Fresh FP&A, an Indiana-based consulting firm that offers finance and fractional CFO services to businesses. “That’s why I think the CFO is going to be the chief future officer of the organization.”

Most critically, McKinsey found that CFOs are driving the digital transformations of their businesses. They are leading the adoption and implementation of new technologies—like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and machine learning—that are helping businesses become more agile and resilient.

Soft skills rule. As the CFO role becomes more expansive and critical to businesses, finance professionals need to develop a different set of skills and a new mindset to meet the demands of the job. Top of the list are soft skills like communication and influence, according to CPA Journal.

“You need to know something about accounting and how stuff works through the P&L [profit and loss statements], treasury, investor relations, M&A [mergers and acquisition], and then all of this sort of strategic advisory side,” Hilary Maxson, EVP and group CFO of Schneider Electric, told CFO Brew. “The CFO is the one that keeps those things together…I think a lot of that actually has to do with general management skills, learning how to work with your colleagues, learning how to manage through influence—all of those softer skills.”

With so much change afoot, and so many challenges on the horizon, CFOs will have to be fearless, Rich Veldran, CFO of GoTo, formerly LogMeIn, told CFO Brew. He also serves as a senior advisor and executive coach at Boston Consulting Group. Veldran’s advice to aspiring CFOs? Don’t hesitate.

“Dive into it. Understand the business. Look at it from every angle. I don’t look at it through just a financing [lens]; look at it through a marketing lens, a management lens, a product lens. So dive into it, because it’s exciting and that’s where you light the fire,” he said. “And if you do that, you become resilient. You get different experiences and all of those things serve you along the way.”—KL, DA

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.