The Evolving Role of the CFO: From Scorekeeper to Business Partner

As companies and their leaders learn capitalize on new opportunities for growth in highly competitive markets, the role of the CFO is ever-more charged with preparing the company to meet these new growth challenges.

In an Argyle CFO Virtual Event, John O’Rourke of Planful and two CFOs with thriving companies met for a panel discussion on this very topic. Most of what was discussed directly supported the recent survey conducted by Argyle and Planful, entitled, “The Modern CFO as a Business Partner”.

The panelists included Justin Markle, the CFO for Comcast Corporation’s Platform Services, which provides enterprise-level services on a global scale. Their offerings include media distribution services and advertising technologies.

The panel also included Sas Mukherjee, the CFO and CSO (chief strategy officer) for York Risk Services Group. York is the third largest CPA firm in the nation, offering administrative services and cost containment services to healthcare organizations. Mr. Mukherjee has also acted as CEO with other organizations, giving him a background and insight into both the financial side and the business side of the enterprise.  Here are some notable insights from the panel discussion.


What are the Key Priorities of Today’s CFOs in Such Uncertain Times for Business?

John O’Rourke, VP of Product Marketing for Planful, served as moderator for this Argyle Virtual event. He asked the panelists how today’s CFOs are prioritizing their efforts in such an uncertain business climate. Mr. Markle answered that CFOs are having to find ways to drive profitable growth. This means continually adapting to technical changes and new business models. He feels the CFO’s job is to find the best ways to capitalize on these technologies and business models.

Mr. Mukherjee believes that there are basically three roles the CFO must play:

  1. Gathering and analyzing the data to support fact-based strategies
  2. Continually handling transformations within the economy and technology
  3. Proving finance as an enabler of growth, not simply “counting the beans,” but learning where to find new “beans” and how to capitalize on those “beans”

Both of these answers support findings in the Planful/Argyle study. Of the 125 respondents, some 44 percent said the relationship between the business and their CFO has become more of a collaborative effort. Twenty-eight percent stated that there is less focus on details involving the finance department, and the relationship has become more strategic in nature. Fourteen percent said their CFO was more focused on driving innovation.


What are the New Responsibilities CFOs are Challenged to Take On?

Next, Mr. O’Rourke asked panelists what new responsibilities CFOs are taking on, in addition to their traditional responsibilities. Mr. Markle responded that CFOs are being pulled into new areas of the business, serving as a direct link for their CEOs. Finance is in a unique position to see the business and all its various pieces holistically, which serves as a single point of contact for the CEO looking for answers. Markle says the CFO is now involved in hiring, real estate, infrastructure, product rollouts, acquisitions, and other areas of the business they’d never been involved with before.

Mr. Mukherjee said the greatest challenges are in the realm of managing internal transformation. The CFO is becoming more involved as a validator of financial APIs and in delivering the data necessary for decision making. For example, businesses need the right hiring metrics in order to employ the right HR practices. CFOs are continually called upon to validate the data used to make these kinds of decisions. He has also seen, in his previous positions with other companies, the CFO directly involved in advising external clients. While this isn’t typical, it is an example of how the CFO’s role is evolving within the overall marketplace.

Again, these statements directly backed the findings of the Planful/Argyle survey, in which well over half said the CFO’s relationship with the CEO had improved. Sixteen percent indicated that the CFO’s relationship with the CIO had become more important, while 15 percent indicated a stronger collaborative relationship between their CFO and the Chief Revenue Officer or the head of their sales departments. About four percent said the collaborative efforts were stronger between their CFO and the CHRO or head of the human resources department.

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