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CFOS OF CONSUMER BRANDS: THE FUTURE VALUE CHAMPION?

29/05/2019

By Paul Prendergast, managing director for the Consulting practice in the products industry at Accenture.

We have seen huge disruption across a range of industries, with no signs of slowing down. For the big consumer brands, the relentless pace of change is creating higher consumer expectations and upending traditional certainties on an epic scale.

Consumers are firmly in the driving seat and looking for more than just a “product”. They’re using digital platforms to buy directly from manufacturers, bypassing traditional retail. They want services that bring convenience to their lives and searching for experiences that embody the brand purpose they’ve bought into. The challenge for companies is to deliver something that’s “just right” for each consumer, meeting their individual needs at the precise moment.

And the smaller players are giving them exactly what they want but turning “business as usual” on its head and creating new models on agile operating structures that engage in a larger ecosystem and accelerate innovation to satisfy growing consumer demand for low cost, personalized products and services.

The traditional consumer goods operating models simply weren’t designed for this level of complexities. Successful companies will be those who can achieve an incredible amount of organizational agility – something that many just don’t have yet. It also calls for a rethink of the entire value chain, all the way from developing new concepts, through manufacturing, to the store shelf and beyond.

To find new growth, brands must solve these challenges, injecting agility across the business, leveraging a wider ecosystem of partners, and delivering relevance at scale for a marketplace of millions of individuals.

Enter the CFO

Chief Financial Officers are uniquely positioned to help drive this journey forward. They have a crucial role in driving the efficiencies in the core business. They have the necessary insights to build the business case for change, targeting operational improvements and the use of new digital technologies to unlock value and drive more profitable growth.

Accenture’s research shows that CFOs see their role is changing. They’re now just as likely to view themselves as “value champions” and “transformation drivers” as their more traditional business functions. For instance, 81 percent of surveyed CFOs say targeting areas of new value across the business is a major focus, while 78 percent say they lead efforts to drive business-wide operational transformations and efficiencies through digital technology.

CFOs understand the need for speed and agility today, with over half those surveyed (58 percent) saying they’re working towards real-time analysis of business performance. Interestingly, that’s expected to rise to a massive 89 percent in three years’ time.

New roles, new skillsets

Delivering relevance at scale means adapting the consumer goods supply chain for new levels of personalization and multiple sales channels. Given the challenges of doing this alone, most brands will need to leverage a much wider ecosystem of partners across the value chain. And here CFOs have a vital role to play. They can bring a data-driven approach to selecting partners, while ensuring this complex endeavor remains focused on the value-adding outcomes the business is targeting.

We are seeing more CFOs actively taking a lead on data governance. They understand the value of data and see it as a strategic business asset, with 84 percent of finance departments taking responsibility for their organization’s data governance (higher than in any other industry surveyed). In fact, “inconsistent, inaccurate and inaccessible data” is viewed as the greatest challenge facing today’s consumer goods CFOs according to Accenture Research.

These new requirements are changing the CFO skills profile. CFOs themselves say that anticipating and managing risk, long-term strategic thinking, and insight into new technologies are now their most important capabilities. And they know the broader finance function needs to change too, with the ability to innovate now the most sought-after capability for junior finance staff.

Five actions every CFO should be taking today

So what are the immediate priorities for consumer goods CFOs as they drive relevance at scale for their brands? There are five actions every CFO should be taking today:

#1 Start with digitizing finance – then the company. Finance is an ideal testing ground for digital technology, automation, and AI. CFOs should be using their experience and lessons learned to drive a digital transformation across the business.

#2 Plan holistically and harness data for insights. CFOs know the value of data visibility and should champion the use of real-time analytics and insights across the C-suite and beyond.

#3 Develop the future finance workforce. CFOs should be planning holistically for their future talent needs, including promoting the greater use of AI and other innovative digital technologies.

#4 Drive a deep transformation of operations. CFOs should be considering zero-based budgeting as a means of creating spend visibility, driving the efficiencies that can fund a pivot to new growth.

#5 Be the architect of value. CFOs should be influencing decisions about ecosystem partner organizations, ensuring every move is focused on delivering ultimate value for the business.

Above all, CFOs need to put themselves at the center of business decision making as their companies pivot to the operating models that deliver consumer relevance at scale and capture new growth opportunities in a highly complex and uncertain marketplace.

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Finance Derivative is a global financial and business analysis magazine, published by FM.Publishing. It is a yearly print and online magazine providing broad coverage and analysis of the financial industry, international business and the global economy.