In response to new challenges and higher expectations, chief financial officers are taking on an expanded and increasingly active role, according to a survey of 1,600 senior financial executives by global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and CFO Research Services.
These "activist" CFOs are working more closely with boards of directors, helping to shape corporate strategy and serving as trusted advisors -- and sometimes successors -- to the chief executive, Booz Allen reported.
Overall, CFOs are working much more closely with corporate boards than in the past. Forty-four percent of respondents said that the CFO interacts with the board of directors significantly more than two years ago. This is particularly true of "activist" CFOs -- 60 percent of respondents from activist companies said that their CFOs have increased their interaction with the board over the past two years.
Closer board relations are also tied to times of operating distress, according to the survey results. Among respondents indicating increased board interaction, 38 percent acknowledged a need to overhaul their company's operating model; 30 percent revealed external pressure from analysts for change; and 27 percent reported significant executive turnover, while respondents with no change in board relations indicated significantly less company distress.
Growth, rather than cost control, is the most common agenda for the finance executives polled. Three-quarters of respondents believe that a focus on top-line growth will be a greater contributor to earnings over the next three years than cost containment. The majority of that group (54 percent) sees more value in generating new products and services than in focusing on executing the basics, compared to 28 percent of respondents from companies with below-average profitability, in need of cost control and dramatic change.
"Activist CFOs are reinventing the corporate finance organization and forming much stronger relationships with boards of directors," said Vinay Couto, vice president at Booz Allen. "In some cases, such as PG&E and Cendant, boards take the next step and fill high-profile CEO or president vacancies with the CFO they know and trust."
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