Where CFOs might spend more time: How about strategy, automation and data analytics?

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You now have a unique opportunity as a chief financial officer (CFO) to rebuild your business and accelerate growth by making adjustments to financing, strategy, cash flow and technology use.

But where should you focus most of your attention?

To help you make this decision, consider this big picture perspective from an Accenture survey summarized in a report titled Accenture CFO Research Global.

The report finds that 81 percent of all CFOs see identifying and targeting areas of new value across the business as one of their main responsibilities. Over three quarters (77 percent) believe it is within their purview to drive business-wide operational transformation.

With these statistics in mind, it would make sense for you to consider devoting more of your time to three specific areas that will generate new transformational value to your business. The three are strategic planning, automation and data analytics. Let’s dive into these three in more detail.

Strategy

If you start spending more time doing strategic work, you will be in sync with a growing percentage of CFOs.

Forty-two percent of CFOs spent as much as half their time in a “strategist role,” according to May 2020 survey results from Grant Thornton, an audit, tax and advisory company. That’s a 13 percentage point jump from only four months earlier, February 2020.

Survey results, which are summarized in a report titled “Covid-19 Forcing CFOs To Become Change Agents and Strategies,” also reveal a sharp decline – from 40 percent in February to 9 percent May – in the time CFOs spend on handling transactional processes.

To help your business rebuild and come out stronger, it’s key that your financial strategy tightly aligns with the overall business strategy. A strategy that sets your company apart and delivers unique value to customers will help your business grow.

“The simple truth is that the CFO is now a primary decision maker, thought leader and voice of reason,” according to the Grant Thornton report.

In your more strategic role, you will become more of a trusted business advisor and visionary leader responsible for larger decisions of relevance to the entire strategic mission of the corporation.

Automating processes

A smart way to free up more time to focus on these important strategic initiatives is to automate your company’s processes.

“With automation as a foundational objective, CFOs are getting their own houses in order to free up the time they need to branch out and take on entirely new tasks with broader impact,” according to the Accenture report.

By automating time-consuming tasks, you will be able to focus on cross-functional collaboration and better communication throughout the business.

Generating more valuable insights from data

There will be more benefits to automating your processes. You’ll have more time to analyze the wealth of available corporate data to develop better insights that lead to smarter business and strategic decisions.

“The ability to capture, structure and make better use of data in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their own department and across the organization is the CFO’s greatest area of potential strength,” according to the Accenture report.

To become even more valuable, CFOs need to be able to synthesize data insights and communicate what they mean in concise and compelling ways. The report finds that 81 percent of respondents believe “data storytelling is an essential skill for today’s finance professionals.”

Still, there’s more research that reinforces the need for CFOs to spend more time analyzing corporate data to drive strategic decisions.

A Korn Ferry CFO Pulse Survey 2020 reveals that strategy enablement and operational information, such as reporting and data analytics, are especially important to CFOs now. Almost half (45 percent) say these two capabilities are most important to the future of the finance function.

Final thoughts

So what’s your next step as a CFO going to be?

It can be straightforward and smart.

Start by substantially increasing the number of hours you spend thinking about strategy. Your company needs your advanced analytical skills and ability to see the big picture – especially now in these exceptional times.

Concentrate on automating your company’s processes. It’s going to happen sooner or later to virtually every business. Now – with so much change going on – is a great chance to make that fundamental change to help your business operate more smoothly with less friction and lower costs to get work done.

This will open up your schedule to dive deeper into that huge amount of valuable data your company possesses. Within that data are gems of wisdom.

Take the time to find and synthesize them. You will make better decisions that rebuild your business and help you come out stronger.

You may also like: A CFO's Guide to Making Sense of Payment Automation in 2020

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