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Re-envisioning the CFO as the Chief Future Officer

Chief-future-officerAre you ready to be the chief future officer? That is what I imagine to be the ultimate role of today’s CFO, someone who offers the kind of multifaceted, high-end skills that organizations can use to achieve their strategic financial goals and drive innovation.

The role of the CFO is already undergoing rapid change. In fact, 66% of global CFOs don’t believe the current definition of that title adequately captures the diversity of their position, according to an Ernst & Young study. Finding the skills needed to move an organization forward is going to be an ongoing challenge, however. In an Accenture survey, 40% of decision makers in Europe believed that the future success of their organizations depended on high-end analytical skills, but only 15% said they had these skills. So-called soft skills are also vital. IBM research has found that CEOs believe the critical skills for future success are being collaborative, communicative and creative.

One critical trend that will have an impact on the CFO’s role is the growing appreciation of the importance of non-financial measures and big data. Seventy-five percent of respondents to a CGMA survey agreed that more emphasis should be placed on measuring and demonstrating that value. The same survey predicted that big data and better analytics would change the way business is done over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, 93% of CGMA professionals believe finance has an essential role in helping organizations benefit from big data projects, with many envisioning collaboration between finance and IT and leaders from other departments. They believe the five traits of a data-enabled CFO are:
  • The ability to identify the data points that are useful in understanding what drives the business.
  • A clear sense of what customers care about most, and ideas on how to track this.
  • The ability to embrace new forms of data and incorporate them into business decision making.
  • Being comfortable with uncertainty, including the reality that big data may not provide definitive answers.
  • Being able to explore new ways to interpret data to better inform management.

These ideas are top of mind for me right now, because I am preparing my presentation for the AICPA CFO Conference, which will take place May 8 to 9 in National Harbor, Md. The theme of this year’s conference, which is a customized program designed by CFOs for their CFO peers, is “Understanding Trends:  Preparing for the Future,” so all of the presentations will focus on the latest trends affecting the finance function.  

Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said we live in a VUCA world, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. “It requires different skills than, for example, people leading companies in the ‘90s and the early part of the 21st Century,” he noted. As professionals scramble to meet new expectations, CPAs are well positioned to leverage their existing knowledge and core competencies to tackle an organization’s rapidly changing needs. I hope you’ll join me at the conference for a thorough perspective on how you can use your skills to help lead your organization into the future. 

Ash Noah, CPA, FCMA, CGMA, Vice President - External Relations and Management Accounting, American Institute of CPAs. 

Chief future officer image via Shutterstock

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