80% of CFOs spearheading digital transformation

Finance directors increasingly leading digital change within companies as their role pivots from accounting

Eight of 10 CFOs are spearheading their companies’ adoption of digital technology, transforming their traditional accounting function.

According to new research by Accenture, today’s financial directors play a key role in driving digital disruption across the organisation. Rather than looking back, today’s CFOs are change agents who look forward, directing company-wide digital investment.

And 73 per cent of CFOs are exploring how disruptive technologies could benefit the entire organisation and business eco-system.

Nearly 80 per cent of those surveyed believe that it within their remit to transform their businesses.

David Axson, senior strategy executive principal at Accenture, said: “CFOs are increasingly stepping out from the confines of their role to act as strategic advisors as well as innovators across the entire enterprise.

“In an era of unprecedented disruption, this repositioning of the role will continue as CFOs take the role of digital stewards, using data to drive value and improve efficiency while mapping out the digital investments required for their organisations to remain competitive.”

Not only are CFOs carrying out their own tasks faster and better through automation, are increasingly ushering in the “digitalisation” of other functions and finding new ways to use technology to change business models and open new revenue streams.

Changing role

The Accenture report The CFO Reimagined: From Driving Value to Building the Digital Enterprise says that today’s CFO is shifting towards strategic planning, advisory and analytics roles as CFOs continue to automate routine accounting, control and compliance tasks. Automation of finance duties is enabling the finance function to focus on newer and more challenging tasks, corralling C-suite together to act on insights gleaned from data analysis.

Today, 34 percent of finance tasks are carried out by technology; by 2021, almost half (44 per cent) of these duties will be taken over by automation.

Dr. Christian Campagna, senior managing director Accenture Strategy, CFO & Enterprise Value, said: “CFOs’ use of data is expanding to other parts of the business. As a result, they will need to be more entrenched in transformational technologies such as artificial intelligence and analytics to usher in digitisation of the broader organisation, create new business models and unlock new revenue streams.

“The CFOs who step up to manage these opportunities will be the true guardians of the enterprise.”

As the role of the CFO continues to evolve, so do the skillsets required to become a finance executive. Today’s finance function must include employees with a wide range of capabilities, from data visualisation to flexible thinking. Most CFOs recognise that finance skills will continue to move away from core finance to advanced digital, statistics, operational and collaborative skills (79 per cent). And more than three-quarters (76 per cent) say the change must be rapid and drastic, as traditional finance roles may soon become obsolete.

Data storytelling

The biggest challenge for CFOs will be recruiting or training the talent to understand how to collect data and gain insight from data. Almost nine in ten (87 per cent) UK CFOs agree that data storytelling is an essential skill for today’s finance professional.

Commenting on the report, Halliburton CFO Chris Weber said: “It feels like there are two camps for what people look for in a CFO: the control or accounting background versus a more strategic finance role who partners with the CEO. Over time, I think the shift has been towards this second role, even if that means the candidate isn’t an accountant by training.”

Accenture conducted online surveys with more than 700 finance leaders worldwide and more than 200 younger executives. Close to 50 qualitative interviews were conducted with CFOs, senior finance executives, CEOs and chief data officers.

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