Adam Zoucha, Managing Director, FloQast EMEA
Financial management is one of the oldest professions in the world, and for most of that history, it was essentially applied mathematics – number-wizards keeping track of the financial figures and making sure everything tallied up when it was supposed to. However, ever since digital technology made its way out of the world’s laboratories and into its offices, the role of finance teams has been steadily changing.
Number crunching remains the foundation of accounting in the 21st Century, but for senior finance managers and CFOs in particular, job responsibilities — and expectations from within the organization — don’t stop there.
As digital technology automates manual processes, CFOs have been freed up to focus on delivering more analytical information and insights. The business landscape is continuing to shift quickly and agile companies need to make strategic decisions that are informed by real financial data to pivot and survive. That means the modern CFO needs to be able to provide commercial leadership, feeding into business development and growth plans from a foundation of rock-solid financial data.
This is a major opportunity for added value. Although most CFOs have years of experience making tough financial decisions after analysing data, few have been working closely with the operational side of the business. Senior leaders across all industries are asking their finance teams to enable truly intelligent, up-to-the-minute decisions – so what skills do they need to make the most of that opportunity?
Combining Strategic Leadership with Technological Improvements
Financial leaders are adept at aligning tech smarts with financial know-how however, having the know-how without the tools is counterproductive. To deliver on the promise of data-driven strategic leadership we need to pair this combination with the right technology for optimal results.
As accounting software becomes more sophisticated, automation is being used to eliminate repetitive tasks. This means financial controllers are able to assume responsibilities that were once the domain of the CFO and the CFO can focus on strategic initiatives that drive the business forward, while their teams are unburdened from having to perform highly-manual, time-intensive assignments.
But it’s not enough for CFOs to simply plug in the new, shiny tech, hand the keys to the controller, and wait for the actionable insights to roll in. They need to have an intimate understanding of the systems their teams are using, so they can ensure they’re actually aiding productivity and bringing results. Not all software is created equal, but good automation should reduce stress and friction.
CFOs need to be able to identify tech that’s made by accountants for accountants – not just built by software engineers with no on-the-ground experience. Is it making it easier for teams to organise their workflows? Is it giving them greater visibility into progress and outstanding tasks? Is it helping them standardise paperwork and reduce time spent chasing lost receipts? Or is it simply adding steps to a process that was already burdening staff quite enough, thank you?
A crucial part of financial leadership in 2022 is the ability to ask and answer these questions and to support your team in building a technological foundation for accounting excellence.
Reframing Financial Knowledge in an Actionable, Operational Way
Once that foundation is in place, CFOs need strong communication and analytical skills to translate financial data into real-world strategies, collaborating effectively with the CEO, sales and marketing, and other departments.
Put simply, it’s not enough to know how cashflow looked at month-end without broader contextual data about annual and five-year trends, the state of the market, unusual costs or income, and extenuating circumstances (like a global pandemic).
If the company excels in any given month, is that cause for bullish investment? Or a blip to be passed over? If the figures are beginning to sink, is it time to break out the oars, or is the ship likely to right itself in time? These are the kinds of questions CEOs are asking, and if the CFO is to provide confident answers, clean, on-time data is essential.
This brings us back to the question above: Is the technology their team is using designed by accountants who understand the challenges finance teams face? Does it provide the insights they need to answer high-level questions? Does it provide CFOs with the tools they need to cut through the noise and see the underlying story? If they’re to deliver strategic value, those tools are essential.
Finance teams are facing a huge amount of pressure in a fast-changing market, and many accountants are leaving the profession as a result. But with the right combination of intelligent automation, deep visibility, and genuinely people-centric collaboration tools, those stress levels can be brought down – and the CFO can be empowered to confidently advise their C-suite colleagues on overall business strategy.