The three big pressures facing CFOs

Johannesburg, 14 Sep 2020
Read time 4min 10sec
Gerhard Hartman, VP, Medium Business, Africa & Middle East, Sage
Gerhard Hartman, VP, Medium Business, Africa & Middle East, Sage

Banish the thought of a CFO merely being the guardian of the company cheque book. Finance professionals are catching on to the potential of emerging technologies, especially cloud services that can be easily deployed, adapted and managed. Findings from Sage and World Wide Worx's new CFO 3.0 report reveal a role that sits much closer to technology – and is more at home with it – than previously thought.

The statistics from the South African research paint a surprising picture: 87% of CFOs play important roles in digital strategy, and 15% are fully responsible for digital transformation. The majority – 86% – see technology as the way to unlock new opportunities and support risk management.

"It's tempting to look at these numbers and try to justify them through a generational lens," said Gerhard Hartman, Vice-President, Medium Business, Africa and Middle East at Sage. "But this isn't a case of a younger generation of CFOs taking charge. The feedback we received came from all kinds of CFOs. Their roles have grown closer to technology and they have not ignored the change."

When the pandemic arrived, it added momentum to this trend – not the least because CFOs now face more significant pressures. Another thread emerging from the report's research is that CFOs have more on their plate than before. Some 27% now manage remote workers, a primary challenge for modern CFOs. The two other big pressures are meeting changing stakeholder needs and compliance and security concerns.

Making sense of the three pressures

These three challenges are increasingly intertwined. Compliance and security around financial information have become much trickier with decentralised networks, scattered workforces and greater opportunities for cyber criminals to strike.

"Remote working is a significant challenge for CFOs because it can circumvent or disable processes that manage elements such as compliance and security. This is usually painted as a problem for IT, but CFOs are also accountable. The CFOs who are not looking at technology to help them manage compliance and security are not going to get on top of these problems."

Changing stakeholder needs are also being amplified through the pandemic. CFOs have already had to keep pace with numerous different business modernisation projects, executed across their companies and championed by different people. This report reveals that their roles are nuanced, and that CFOs are embracing a wider set of responsibilities. One reason is that they have seen the benefits of technology for their own purposes.

"Something that really jumps out from the research are the high levels of appreciation for data analytics," said Hartman. "Locally, 64% of CFOs already spend more time analysing data than gathering it. That didn't happen overnight. CFOs' intuition for data's value has helped them anticipate digitisation's advantages."

Beating the pressure

Technology also happens to provide support and answers to CFOs. Software platforms are helping financial professionals to automate processes, and track compliance. Benefits include staying informed on changing regulations and automate audits. Professionals who are starting to embrace these advantages qualify for the CFO 3.0 designation.

But many CFOs are still not at this level. Some don't realise what software services can offer around people management, automation and analytics. Many feel overwhelmed by the large volumes of data, the demands of modernisation, and the new and renewed pressures discussed here.

Hartman added: "It's great that CFOs are more aware of technology and are working to make digital transformation happen. But they don't need to get caught up in every detail. A CFO should ask: do they need a technology, do they have technology they can leverage right now, and is there anything new they want to accomplish? Then they can collaborate with the CIO to connect those dots."

Finally, don't forget about the leadership role. CFOs might be boarding the technology train, but many people still fear and misunderstand what it all means. A simple issue – such as that automation won't make someone redundant and unemployed – is a valuable lesson CFOs can take to employees.

"What this research tells us is that the CFO is a much more central and enabling figure for digital transformation than anyone had thought. They can walk the line between technology and business, engaging stakeholders on different levels and sending a message down the ranks that can get everyone onboard. If CFOs look at reducing the three main pressures they face, they will be instrumental in securing their company's future," Hartman said.