Jan 6, 2023
4 min read

The modern CFO: How the role is changing

Quick summary

The role of CFO has expanded significantly over time. CFOs are no longer solely expert corporate number crunchers. They must also be dynamic leaders who oversee and successfully manage and support business growth.

Table of Contents

    Today's Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are an integral part of the senior management team that sets the strategic direction for the company. To be successful, a CFO needs to have strong leadership skills, excellent communication skills, and a keen understanding of finance.

    As a member of the C-suite, CFOs are among the highest-paid and most influential in a company.

    What does a modern CFO do?

    A chief financial officer (CFO) is a senior-level executive within an organization who's responsible for the financial aspects of running the business. The CFO typically reports directly to the CEO and sometimes sits on the board of directors in the company.

    The CFO is responsible for the financial health of a company and its performance in the marketplace. Keeping a company financially healthy involves the successful management of the finance team too, and ensuring that they use their time effectively to support business growth and success.

    In a survey from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services in association with Payhawk, a massive 67% of business leaders said that finance departments are likely to spend most of their time chasing down receipts and expenses (even though they can easily automate this kind of work with the right technology). Clearly, modern CFOs must focus on driving initiatives and introducing technology to support the finance team to smash business goals rather than manually managing admin around capital expenditures.

    HBR report: how to drive business strategy and growth

    Some of the CFOs most common duties include:

    • Managing the company's finances and overseeing its accounting team
    • Monitoring cash flows and managing debt levels
    • Preparing budgets and forecasts for future growth
    • Working closely with management teams across departments to ensure they are operating effectively
    • Presenting financial information to stakeholders and investors
    • Analyzing trends in financial data to identify opportunities and risks
    • Coordinating with other departments to support decision-making

    As a financial leader, the CFO is also involved in strategic decision-making and planning for the future, including sales growth, cost-cutting measures, capital investments, and more. As they work closely with top management to develop long-term goals for profitability and growth, they also help set annual budgets, monitor spending throughout the year, and assess if plans are working as expected or if adjustments need to be made.

    Qualifications and requirements for CFOs today

    The role of the CFO has evolved from leading a finance and accounting function (the case a number of years ago) to a strategic partner in driving business growth. The CFO is now responsible for driving innovation across the organization and ensuring it meets its strategic goals while also overseeing finance and accounting functions.

    Educational background

    A qualified candidate will often have a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance and several years of experience in these fields. Many candidates will also have master's degrees in business administration (MBA) or a related field.

    Skills and experience

    To be successful in this role, the ideal candidate will have a mix of skills and experience that includes:

    1. Finance management expertise - A strong understanding of financial markets, including investments, valuation, and risk management.
    2. Strong analytical skills - A CFO needs to be able to analyze financial information quickly and effectively so they can make decisions based on facts rather than assumptions.
    3. Business acumen - An ability to understand how finance can drive business growth by providing insights on financial plans and forecasts as well as operational performance.
    4. Strategic thinking - The ability to identify opportunities for growth through innovation and change.
    5. Communication skills - Excellent verbal and written communication skills are critical for communicating with senior leaders across all levels of an organization.

    The modern CFO: Going beyond the numbers

    The job of a CFO has changed significantly over the years as companies have become driven by technology, and global reach and effectiveness have become both more achievable and sophisticated.

    While CFOs still manage teams of people who in turn manage finances and ensure money is spent wisely — CFOs now have more responsibilities in their evolving roles. For example:

    1. More strategic focus when handling complex problems that require creativity and foresight.
    2. Dynamic leadership skills when managing a large and growing organization.
    3. Tighter alignment with business strategy by being well-informed about the business environment, including financial markets, competitors, and customers.
    4. Increased customer engagement and focus on people by understanding what makes people tick — their motivations, their needs, their aspirations — to build productive relationships with them.

    In other words, today's CFO must have deep knowledge of finance and be an excellent strategist capable of making decisions based on information from across the organization — not just from within accounting or finance departments.

    The leadership role that guides business growth

    While the role of CFO is often associated with numbers and finance, it has become increasingly important as businesses have expanded globally and reached beyond their local markets. The rise of digital technology has changed how companies operate and make decisions at all levels — including the executive level.

    The modern CFO must display dynamic leadership skills when managing a large and growing organization. These skills include communicating effectively, executing strategically, solving problems, and managing teams effectively.

    The CFO must be able to build and maintain relationships with investors and other stakeholders in order to influence them toward a common goal. They also need to be able to understand different perspectives through active listening and good communication skills.

    Learn more about the changing role of the finance team and the CFO's major impact on growing businesses in the report "Help your finance function drive business strategy and growth." The report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, in association with Payhawk covers how fintechs can save finance teams' time and then precisely what they should do with it.

    Trish Toovey - Content Director at Payhawk - The financial system of tomorrow
    Trish Toovey
    Senior Content Manager

    Trish Toovey works across the UK and US markets to craft content at Payhawk. Covering anything from ad copy to video scripting, Trish leans on a super varied background in copy and content creation for the finance, fashion, and travel industries.

    See all articles by Trish →
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