Expert Insight: The evolution of the CFO

The CFO has become a very popular animal to study. If you want to learn more about its behaviour in the wild, you can read about CFOs in hundreds of research papers and reports that are available on the web. Most researchers are looking for what the world’s most successful CFOs have in common. So what are they learning as they explore boardrooms and C-suites for signs of typical CFO behaviour?

By Melle Eijckelhoff, MD of CFO South Africa

Well, for one thing, Darwin would be proud. The CFO is clearly adapting to its changing environment. Being a top-notch accountant, the once so-successful approach of the CFO, is no longer enough to ensure its survival. This has been replaced by the more successful strategy of being an astute business partner.

Some researchers have spotted the odd IT evangelist in the corporate landscape. A few reports claim to have seen change managers, coaches, strategists, compliance officers, risk managers, corporate finance experts, analysts, stakeholder managers and talent managers amongst the flocks of CFOs.

You have to wonder. Are these all birds of a feather?

CFOs have to be many things to many people. Their role has become more complex and important than ever and their agendas have never been so overloaded. Almost all aspects of business end up on their desks. Today, the CFOs and their teams are at the forefront of organising critical information flows throughout the business. The more complex our environment becomes - think globalisation, technology, regulation and risk - the greater the need for information. All eyes are on the CFO to help the business make the right decisions.

We need our naysayers to make sure the business doesn't derail because of its own enthusiasm.

Sometimes I worry about that. Is it possible to keep an eye on the bottom line of the company if there are so many other things that demand your attention? What happens if there is not enough focus on sound financial management because you are too busy running a big data project? And if the CFO is involved in every aspect of the business, how can they keep enough distance to play the role of the professional sceptic? After all, we need our naysayers to make sure the business doesn't derail because of its own enthusiasm.

These challenges and the way they affect the ever-evolving role of the CFO are simply a sign of the times. You have to adapt or die. In my opinion, the CFOs who survive are the ones who remain focused on their most important task; being the steward of healthy financials. And at CFO South Africa we're going to keep doing all we can to ensure the survival of this fascinating animal.

From all the great conversations I have had with CFOs, I am confident that most of them are survivors. They have their priorities right: profitability, stakeholder value and cash-flow. And they work the extra hours to get the job done. Because whatever Darwin says, CFOs are still accountants at heart.

  • This article was previously published on page 10 of the first ever CFO Magazine, launched in May 2015. The next issue is due out in November. If you want to advertise in the CFO Magazine or tell your story during an interview, please email [email protected].
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