Corporate CEOs are relying to a greater extent on CFOs to help them develop strategy and support growth and operations initiatives at their companies, according to a new report from Ernst & Young.
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The report, "Views. Vision. Insights. The Evolving Role of Today's CFO," issued Tuesday, is based on interviews with CFOs from companies such as Archer Daniels Midland, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Xerox, and other companies. They revealed that they are taking on more responsibility beyond finance, and report high satisfaction in their careers. Some CFOs readily confess to being interested in roles beyond finance, including as chief executive officers.
A major insight from the study indicates that CFOs are no longer expected to merely execute the business strategy handed down from the CEO and board of directors. Instead, they are increasingly being asked to develop strategy in existing and emerging growth markets while managing the ongoing demands of the finance function role. In turn, some CFOs believe their role is evolving from serving as a "chief skeptic officer" to a "chief growth officer" as they become major participants in the conversation about growth and business strategy.
"Both here in the Americas and around the world, the role and responsibilities of CFOs are rapidly evolving,” said Ernst & Young senior vice chair of markets Tom McGrath in a statement. “Their organizations are giving them wider scope and demanding that they have a broader set of skills in addition to fundamental skills in finance and expertise in investing and managing capital."
The results of the interviews with CFOs in the Americas correlate with findings in other parts of the world, suggesting the CFO role is increasingly strategic and valued in organizations on a global basis. The new report serves as a supplement to the 2010 report, "The DNA of the CFO: A Study of What Makes a Chief Financial Officer," by the global Ernst & Young organization, which polled 669 CFOs of leading companies in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa to examine the role and responsibilities of senior finance directors, and its 2011 report, "Finance Forte: The Future of Finance Leadership," which polled 530 group CFOs and their direct reports.
The research indicates that CFOs are increasingly contributing to organizational strategy and operational decision-making, as well as meeting unprecedented demand for their unique perspective and discipline. While boards and external stakeholders see CFOs as a vitally important objective voice on financial performance, they are also managing or materially supporting operational functions, including information technology, investor relations, real estate, and strategic M&A. Some are even involved in commercial activities.
Two-thirds of the survey respondents in "The DNA of the CFO" report believe that managing costs has become more critical in the economic environment after the financial crisis, putting it at the top of a list of issues commanding their attention. But companies are increasingly turning their focus to profitable growth—both in developed markets and in those that hold the promise of rapid expansion.
One of the biggest challenges facing the contemporary CFO is the paramount need to communicate complex issues in ways that a variety of audiences can understand when making important decisions about their role or stake in the company. These audiences include investors, financial analysts, customers, partners and employees. In today's 24/7 world where stakeholders demand accurate information and transparency in real-time, the pressure is on the CFO to be a world-class communicator.
Ernst & Young LLP conducted the interviews between August and December 2011 and follow-up conversations continued through May 2012. Respondents were CFOs from ADT, Archer Daniels Midland, Baker Hughes, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Delta Air Lines, Guess?, LyondellBasell, Molex, Navistar International, Nike, OfficeMax, Quintiles Transnational, Ralph Lauren, TD Bank Group, Tetra Pak, S.A. de C.V., United Stationers, Votorantim Metais, W.W. Grainger and Xerox.