Twenty years ago, individuals making up the C-suite would likely have a set of skills that distinctly related to their role. CEOs would be leaders, COOs would be strategists, while CFOs would have technical accounting skills.

Businesses often operated within silos, and the value of individual business functions was not often viewed in terms of cross-organisational integration. In modern businesses however, this perception of C-suite roles is changing and gradually becoming more diverse – bringing different skills and life experience to the board room.

Additionally, there is pressure on different departments such as the finance function, to demonstrate their importance to the wider business. Leaders such as Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are therefore looking to expand their roles and skills to approach things differently.

In many companies the CFO is no longer just sitting at their desk and overseeing the numbers –– their role has become one of the most strategic and integral to the business as a whole.

Defining the modern CFO

In our dummy Finance Leader of Tomorrow survey, we asked CFOs how they perceived themselves and which of the following four personas they felt were most appropriate to them. These personas are a specific combination of responsibilities, skill and attitude within modern finance:

  1. The Technician - An expert focused on and monitoring financial indicators closely and regularly. They have a strong knowledge of internal finance tools and systems.
  2. The Strategist - A long-term thinker, who looks beyond the finance function. They aim to take a significant part in strategic decisions to drive overall business growth.
  3. The Innovator - An individual often searching for new ideas and technologies to challenge internal ways of working and improve team efficiency.
  4. The Facilitator - A supportive and willing member of the team who focuses efforts on giving a clear picture of the company’s financial situation in order to ease decisions.

While a ‘technician’ role would appear to be the most traditional CFO persona that individuals would choose, only 22% of CFOs surveyed aligned themselves with it. Instead, nearly half of CFOs surveyed saw themselves as a ‘strategist’.

This result supports the idea that business finance functions don’t operate in isolation. Being a strategist means working across the whole organisation.

CFOs in times of crisis

In modern business, the role of the CFO is becoming more strategic and increasingly involved in innovation, while maintaining their core skill of digging into the details of the business’s financial performance.

It is worth noting that of the 21% of CFOs who defined themselves as ‘technicians’ 18% found dealing with economic crisis situations ‘very easy’.  It is clear that when challenges become extreme, a balance needs to be struck between the science and the art of finance functions – the technical and the strategy.

The role of the modern finance leader will continue to change, with CFOs likely to embrace a mix of all four personas. This highlights the fundamental importance of the finance function itself and of its pivotal role in the business as a whole.

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