CEOs question – are their CFOs stepping up to the plate?

There have been many surveys quizzing CFOs about their role and how it may change. But not asking their key stakeholder – the CEO, their boss – what their view of their right-hand person is.

So KPMG decided to fill in the gap and survey 178 CEOs across Asia Pacific. The results are revealing.

Almost one-third of CEOs felt their CFOs did not understand or sufficiently assist with the challenges that the CEOs are facing with running their organisations. And yet 72 percent felt the role of the CFO would expand in importance and influence over the next three years, far more than any other C-suite role.

There is a clear disconnect between CFOs perceptions and the expectations of their bosses.  When KPMG asked CFOs a year ago if they were doing a good job, 60 percent were happy with the performance of their finance function. So how can the gap be filled?

According to this survey, CFOs need to understand their stakeholders and not remain within a finance bubble. Business Partnering and Decision Support has become the standard, but the CEO wants more. CFOs need to lift their game, add big-picture thinking and take a more strategic approach. In short, to add greater leadership qualities and be a business executive not a finance executive.

Talent management is the biggest issue here. An overwhelming 99  percent of CEOs said that talent management was more important than anything else in the finance function. Yet only 42 percent believed their CFOs had a sound approach to ensure their finance departments attracted, developed and retained the best talent. This is a real problem. CEOs think staff turnover is a block on productivity and don’t necessarily see the CFO as part of the solution.

CEOs place a huge value on people skills and don’t believe the CFOs are managing their teams well enough. Wider business and leadership skills are now seen as core requirements on top of finance skills. The shape and career of a finance professional is changing, and CFOs need to ensure they, and their teams up-skill sufficiently.

CFOs would be well-advised to take note – if they want the top job themselves (and many do) they need to show they have an eye for talent management. This is crucial for displaying leadership potential.

The second crucial area, from the CEOs perspective – and where they want support – concerns leveraging data and technology to take advantage of market opportunities. The CIO might own the data but it is the CFO who must transform that into value and intelligence. The CFO must assess the ever-expanding amount of data (including non-financial information) for relevance and channel it into growth. It might be that CFOs have to reshape the direction in which CIOs report to them.

A third issue concerns regulation – as the burden has inexorably increased, so the value of the CFO decreases if they are perceived to be bogged down in compliance and risk issues. It might seem unfair – most CFOs would prefer to be doing more strategic work – but they have to find an answer. CFOs need to be able to look at ways of automation and streamlining so they can free up time to focus on performance and growth

None of this is easy. But the opportunity is there for CFOs to flourish and be that genuine right-hand person that CEOs want them to be.

The View from the Top

Feature Image: © peshkova / 123RF Stock Photo
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