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Reforging the UK CFO

The CFO is facing an identity crisis. Despite their best efforts, the outdated stereotype of the penny-pinching bean counter still prevails in UK business circles. We conducted research into UK business decision makers’ views of the c-suite and, to put it lightly, the CFO did not come out favourably. To be clear, we don’t think this is because they are doing a bad job but because there is a lack of understanding about what they do.

A significant proportion of business decision makers in the UK see their CFO as “dull” and “lacking in entrepreneurism”. In fact, only 12% of respondents felt that the CFO’s role in the running of a successful business was worthy of admiration, and only 16% trusted their CFO in relation to their business’ future growth. When we posed to the same question to their US counterparts, we received a more positive view of the CFO, with 17% admiring the CFO role, and a quarter trusting in the CFO’s role in business growth.

Finance and its role in business growth

Confusingly, despite UK businesses’ comparatively negative perception of the CFO, 63% still recognised that sound financial practices are the most important factor for sustained business growth.

This may seem like a bizarre disconnect and little more, but when we consider that these decision makers come from large UK businesses (those with revenues of £50m or more), it paints a more worrying picture of this trend.

It’s no secret that Brexit, and other major geopolitical events of the past 18 months, have created an ecosystem of economic uncertainty, marked by currency fluctuations and a falloff in investor confidence, which UK businesses will have to navigate through successfully. This will take strong leadership and, as UK businesses recognise, a sound understanding of the figures.

So why then is the CFO not seen as a pivotal figure for large UK businesses? Is there a systemic misunderstanding of what, in actuality, the CFO does? Or are CFOs being denied the autonomy they need to use their skills for the benefit of their businesses?

One school of thought is that CFOs are too bogged down with handling their day to day responsibilities as financial stewards that they’re not being utilised for other vital business practices, such as business strategy and future growth. With many large businesses using five or more financial transaction systems, it’s quite clear that even the most dedicated CFO’s focus would be pointed in a single direction.

But how do we unburden the CFO to fully take advantage of his/her varied skillset? Removing irksome, convoluted application processes would be a good start.

Automation paves the way for strategic actions

For instance, standardisation of vendors, applications and processes can mitigate the complexity of amalgamating and summarising activities and transactions. Working around multiple interfaces and systems to collect data for a financial close is unnecessarily time consuming, and also serves to impact the online traceability and auditability of transactions from the financial accounts back to their original systems. Through utilisation of a cloud platform, which allows multiple systems to deliver data into a single platform, these headaches can be easily avoided.

Standardised processes offer an additional benefit – they’re ripe for automation. An investment in automation will further reduce the burden on the CFO and the finance department in general. Reducing this burden isn’t the only benefit. Imagine if the CFO can update the business on its financial position when it is most needed and not just at the end of the month. Decisions can be made quicker and opportunities taken advantage of.

Ultimately, the CFO’s identity crisis is one of our own making. The CFO is being seen as a bean counter because, in truth, that’s what companies are forcing them to be. It’s time to give the CFO and the finance department their fair dues, freeing them of the constraining systems that are being inflicted upon them. If UK businesses can do this, and allow CFOs to use their full repertoire of skills, they’ll have a powerful extra weapon to help them make their way through the uncertain economic landscape. 



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