A couple of weeks ago, the Ortus Club held a session discussing the topic of how the deluge of data is changing the roles of a CFO and how they and their companies are adapting to these changes. At the same time, we set the same questions on an online poll to be answered by these decision makers.
The questions were as follows:
- Have you experienced a change in your role as a CFO in your organisation? And if so, to what degree?
- In your opinion, what factors are driving the evolution of the role of the CFO?
- As a finance leader, do you feel threatened by ‘born digital’ companies? (“Born digital” companies have founded their businesses on top of digital platforms.)
- If you do feel threatened, what are you doing to help mitigate these threats?
- Have you, or are you looking to, implement key technology and innovations into any of your financial processes? For example, AI or Machine Learning automation. If so, what process have you automated or are looking to automate?
We recorded over 25 responses from CFOs in Singapore from a variety of industries. Almost all of the respondents report that they have experienced noticeable to significant changes in the expectations and the responsibilities of being their organisation’s CFO.
Similar to the discussion, there was a general consensus among the responses about a need to respond to the modernisation of business. The pacing of the companies differ, but all understood the need to push themselves and their companies to innovate.
We’ve broken down the responses into three discussion points:
How Trends, Data, and Board Expectations Evolves the CFOs Duties
The presence of data has greatly affected the responsibilities and finance processes of CFOs. With companies starting to become more data-driven in terms of both financing and operations, it became critical for these financial leaders to keep up.
Data also fed into the expectations of their board members. As returns, expenses, and other costs incurred can be broken down in greater detail with more accuracy and speed, the importance of justifying those numbers was a task many of them faced. One of the responses indicated the use of tech to make this job much simpler: “Machine learning for sales and expense forecasting,” as a way to help them adapt.
The trends in consumer markets also played a significant role in how CFOs went about their duties. Many expressed that the rapid shift in industry trends and consumer demands were a factor in their decision-making, as well as the overall strategies that they come up and implement.
The Interaction of the Digital with Traditional Ideals of a Business
The internet has made born digital companies a constant presence in the business world today. When we asked if companies felt threatened by this, most of them said that they weren’t, or considered themselves as born digital companies. Others weren’t so sure if they would be bothered that much, believing that innovation was going to lead them that way eventually.
The implications of the question did bring to light an increased to innovate now: “We have created our own digitalisation strategy and are implementing new technology… also increased focus on customer experience.” For long-standing companies that have only marketed themselves through traditional methods of advertising and brick-and-mortar setups, the push towards the digital has made doing business easier, but at the same time, a little harder to understand.
The responses did agree on some digital aspects making the financial duties easier in when it comes to reporting and collating data. Some innovations like automation software can be seamlessly integrated into the business, with CFOs finding themselves relying more on these systems to speed up certain parts of their workload.
Implementing Key Technologies to Improve Financial Processes
When asked about the processes they’re looking to implement in the company, the majority of our respondents answered with automation. One said: “All financial processes have the potential for automation but the coverage can be different. RPA for standard financial processes, ML for non-standard process and AI for strategic decision making.” If the trends continue as they are, many see the financial aspects of their duties being completely automated.
This has plenty of advantages — most immediate is a more accurate overview of a company’s finances — but also leaves the CFOs with the burden to start looking past the numbers themselves. Many of them are seeing this as an opportunity to be more involved in the rest of the company’s operations: “reworking on systems & processes as well as technical skillets of the team,” aside from taking charge of their finances.
Much like the roundtable discussion, the poll showed that CFOs are well aware of both the advantages and challenges posed by the ongoing digital trends in the business. Almost all of them have been implementing strategies to slowly integrate key technologies into their operations, with rollouts taking place currently or within the next few years.
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