CFOs don’t always qualify as finance leaders

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Few CFOs give themselves high marks for effectiveness, and only a small proportion have the necessary traits to qualify as finance leaders, according to a new report.

The report, from the business software giant SAP and Oxford Economics, surveyed 1,500 finance executives around the world, and identified the six traits of high-performing CFOs:

1. Have strong influence beyond the finance function;

2. Drive strategic growth initiatives;

3. Improve efficiency with automation;

4. Be very effective at core finance processes;

5. Collaborate regularly with business units across the entire company; and

6. Work closely with the governance, risk and compliance team and excel at handling regulatory change.

However, the survey found that only 11.5 percent of the survey respondents qualified as finance leaders according to those criteria.

The report found that when the finance function is proactive in those six areas, finance leaders are nearly twice as likely as non-leaders to report growing market share. They also appeared to have a tighter grip on costs and made the most of technology innovations.

“If you’re not on the business-winning side, if you don’t understand how you can drive more value out of your portfolio, then you’re not influencing the future, and you’re not influencing the share price,” said Airbus Defense and Space CFO Julian Whitehead in the report.

CFOs can’t be successful without collaboration beyond finance, according to the report. Automation is helping, according to the report, with 73 percent of the survey respondents indicating automation is improving the finance function’s efficiency, giving executives more time for value-added tasks.

Regulatory changes are a challenge, with 77 percent of the finance executives polled saying that regulatory and compliance changes have added complexity to the finance function in the past two years.

Cybersecurity has become a top concern for finance teams, with 54 percent of the survey respondents naming cybercrime as a top business risk. That proportion jumped to 76 percent of respondents in the banking sector.

The growth of data is spurring the need for advanced technologies. Nearly all the respondents (96 percent) indicated that data is making their jobs more complex. A growing number of them are looking to advanced technologies, such as the internet of things, blockchain, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to answer their Big Data challenges.

The finance function is growing at the most successful companies, according to the report. The fastest-growing and most profitable companies are the most likely to report a higher finance headcount. Nearly twice as many companies with revenue growth of between 5.1 and 10 percent, compared to those with growth of less than 5 percent, said staffing in the finance function increased in the past two years. Nearly twice as many survey respondents whose profit margin grew by 5.1 to 10 percent over the past year said finance has been hiring, compared to those with profit growth below 5 percent.

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