CFO’s top priorities for future-proofing finance teams

April 12, 2022 06:00
Photo: Getty Image/Workday

The role of the CFO continues to evolve in today’s dynamic, ever-changing business environment. Once considered a numbers-only role, the CFO is now balancing traditional responsibilities with growing demand for data-driven analysis and insights that support business growth and strategy. To find out what concerns are top of mind for the finance function, Workday’s latest CFO Indicator Survey asked 267 CFOs around the globe about their financial cloud maturity, their most in-demand skills, their ability to transform data into insights, and what they see as emerging technologies – and identified the three top priorities for CFOs and their finance teams in the next five years.

A Global Perspective: Technology and Skills

Modern business leaders and finance executives require innovative technology skillsets to keep pace with accelerated business change and elevate the value they can bring. A majority (57%) of CFOs are looking for technology skillsets in future hires that include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), according to our survey. Finance leaders are expected to serve as strategic business partners, using their real-time reporting and analysis acumen. Not surprisingly, a substantial portion (40%) of CFOs are looking for new hires skilled in data storytelling, AI, and ML.

Yet, the skills gap—the difference between what finance teams will need to compete and create organisational value and the skills they currently have—presents a challenge for enterprises, and the challenge of hiring people with the skills necessary now and into the future is even larger during an era of increased competition for talent prompted by the Great Resignation.

What that means in practice is deploying user-friendly technology that provides finance professionals with intuitive, app-like interfaces that can reduce the complexity of the financial reporting process, as well as automating routine tasks. Consumer-like interfaces for finance employee tasks can also help CFOs attract and retain discerning tech-savvy people. Not surprisingly, nearly all (97%) CFOs who responded to the survey said technology was critical to attracting and retaining talent, and nearly half (48%) are actively looking to invest in such technology over the next five years.

CFOs have the opportunity to reimagine their finance team, systems and processes by leveraging a digital finance footprint that empowers the continuous recalibration of strategies and decision-ready organisations. This in turn enables CFOs to take ownership of configuring and future-proofing their finance operations to evolve with the business, and help ensures long-term success with a frictionless finance experience in the post-pandemic economy.

Meet the Finance Outperformers

To stay ahead of the competition, finance leaders and teams need technology tools that allow agile decision-making and greater alignment with internal business partners to drive effective company-wide value-driven outcomes. A common thread that emerges from our survey, and particularly among finance leaders with mature digital transformation efforts, is that data is key.

Among the CFOs who responded to the survey, a majority (58%) rated their ability to transform data into insights as “excellent,” identifying them as “finance outperformers.” The CFOs in this group greatly value data storytelling and have incorporated their enthusiasm for leveraging technology to harness their teams’ abilities into a recruitment and retention strategy.

An overwhelming majority (70%) of finance outperformers said they plan to meet their future needs, at least in part, by training existing employees and helping grow their careers. The same percentage (70%) of respondents plan to rely on hiring, too.

Three other data points among this group of CFOs also stand out:

• 78% plan to add data governance and management skills or talent in the next five years.
• 71% want to continue investing in data science. By contrast, the 41% of CFOs who rated their data capabilities as “good” plan similar investments.
• 57% are looking at environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments.

ESG and D&I: Continuing Focus

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) and ESG issues have also risen to the top of corporate agendas, with more than half (57%) of all CFOs saying they are a priority. Naturally, it will become necessary for CFOs to have an accurate accounting of financial and non-financial data to understand ESG efforts and convey them to stakeholders, vendors, and regulators, not to mention providing the competitive advantage their organisation can realise from ESG initiatives.

The value of ESG is reflected in the survey responses: CFOs at both large (21%) and medium enterprises (31%) identified it as an investment priority. More than half of respondents said they would add new ESG (55%) and D&I (54%) functions or capabilities in the next five years. CFOs can create enterprise value through a purpose-driven approach that factors ESG principles and metrics across all dimensions of strategy, decision making, and corporate governance.

CFOs intent on future-proofing their finance teams must understand the skills and technologies that organisations will require to remain agile, create value, and outpace the competition. Data analytics, AI, and ML will take center stage, with ESG and D&I playing supporting roles, as the finance function expands its influence to serve as a strategic partner in enabling a robust and resilient organisation.

Bridging the skills gap amid a talent shortage will require that organisations also look inward to develop their employees’ careers, a move that needs significant investment not only in people, but in the technology, to attract and retain tomorrow’s finance leaders.

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General Manager, Greater China, Workday