Matt Clementson, Head of Enterprise UK&I at SAP Concur
It’s a common misconception that Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are “just” number crunchers, with little to offer beyond paying a close eye to what is spent across the organisation. Instead, CFOs can play a crucial role in making the company future-ready, delivering on innovation, sustainability or shaping the employee experience – including having a say on the rollout of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In fact, the CFO role is continually evolving – and their analytical skills and insights are more valuable than ever against the unpredictability and economic turmoil of today. Our recent global CFO Insights research found that an emphatic 90% of senior finance leaders agree their key task today is to prepare business for the unexpected, with only 2% disagreeing.
With the right analytical tools and senior relationships in place, there are many ways that CFOs can go far beyond the “number crunching” persona to positively impact employees and the business as a whole.
From numbers to insights and opportunities
Certainty is hard to come by in the business world. The IMF’s World Uncertainty Index has trended clearly towards growing economic instability since 2000, with the war in Ukraine sparking the latest surge of upheaval. Against this backdrop, most finance leaders report that their top internal challenge is the growing complexity of forecasting and budgeting, according to our research.
All of this has impacted the role of the CFO. Finance leaders have evolved to become the frontline in preparing businesses for the unexpected – whether it’s heightened inflation, international trade wars or disruption from new technologies.
These challenges are sparking new ideas and responses. Finance leaders are adapting to change by more closely monitoring market conditions (57%), as well as investing in innovation (40%) and cutting-edge technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (33%): not slashing costs, but gaining insight and responding creatively.
Data analytics and reporting tools are also extremely important for reducing risk – and this in turn has given CFOs far greater insight into their organisations and opportunities for growth. With the right data strategy, technology and skills, finance leaders can use analytics to better understand almost any aspect of the business and support their peers in the executive team. Rather than just reporting the figures, CFOs can help to identify unexpected routes forward and prepare the business for whatever the future holds.
Supporting and driving the green agenda
Sustainability is another area where CFOs are driving change. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are more important to business planning than ever, and the greatest impetus is from investors. According to our research, CFOs say investors are applying pressure on sustainability issues (42%) – more so than customers, governments, employees or regulators.
Finance officers have a critical role to play in measuring and driving progress in sustainability. CFOs can access and integrate information from across the business, to understand how different areas are performing and spot places for improvement. This is vital for ESG reporting, but equally provides an opportunity to drive behaviour change across the business.
Corporate travel is a natural area for finance leaders to focus. With intelligent travel and expense (T&E) systems, CFOs can understand the impact of travel across the business, gaining insights into carbon emissions, top destinations, green suppliers and traveller spending behaviours. Expense policies can then be crafted around sustainability, to incentivise greener trips.
Importantly, armed with these tools, employees can also understand their own impact by tracking their travel footprint, as well as receiving practical options for offsetting their journeys. By providing these kinds of tools and insights, CFOs can help employees across the business to make more sustainable choices.
Making the business more diverse, inclusive and attractive
People are of course the most valuable asset in any business – and CFOs can not only improve productivity, but are essential when making the workplace more diverse, inclusive and attractive. Our survey found that finance leaders are keen to collaborate more closely with HR leaders, particularly when it comes to business performance metrics and strategies to boost employee satisfaction.
Collecting the right data is critical. Indicators that go beyond the numbers can provide a more rounded view of the company’s health and help guide its talent strategy. With more nuanced insights into the employee experience, finance and HR leaders might identify that teams value flexible working or space to focus as much as monetary rewards.
Through ongoing adjustments, leaders can create the most motivational – and productive – working environment possible, with a measurable impact on business performance.
Finance leaders can also provide tools that will ease employee frustrations: for example, intelligent travel and expense tools that use automation to save time and effort. It’s also possible to provide valuable information for trips, such as medical assistance and safety in different destinations, to ensure that travel is inclusive for all employees. All of this will support a work environment that is rewarding and attractive for people across the business, whether in or out of the office.
The business’ secret weapon
Crunching the numbers is of course a critical strength for any CFO, especially amidst uncertainty. But in today’s business environment, they can do so much more: adding insight, creativity and sustainability to the business – and empowering employees to succeed. Having the right systems and data in place is key, so that CFOs can not only combat uncertainty but shape organisations ready for the future.
Read the CFO Insights Report from SAP Concur here.