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Expanded role is a challenge to CFOs

A RECENT survey of 166 chief financial officers (CFOs) across 23 different industries shows that a large number of them feel that managing too many responsibilities is their biggest challenge.

A white paper from Brainyard tracked the results of the 2019 survey and said 38 percent of CFOs consider their expanded role as the biggest challenge. CFOs also mentioned concerns of maintaining cash flow, a familiar problem in finance.

Running the numbers is still a critical function, but today’s CFOs go way beyond that, perhaps even stretching their resources too thin.

Some 54 percent of CFOs said they had between 11 and 15 major responsibilities day-to-day.

CFOs are increasingly accountable for the strategic direction of the company (82 percent), on top of more traditional financial responsibilities like budgeting (88 percent) and auditing and reporting (84 percent). Meanwhile, they are required to stay on top of advancements in data analytics and associated technology to properly manage forecasting and predictive insights (88 percent).

CFOs are challenged with the age-old problem of maintaining steady cash flow. Some 34 percent of CFOs mentioned this was a top challenge.

Six in 10 of the CFOs said they saw introducing new revenue streams as a strategy to improve cash flow, while 51 percent cited the importance of adhering to budget discipline. More than a third suggested automated invoicing, and only 11 percent mentioned employee layoffs or pay cuts.

Cybersecurity was the top concern for 71 percent of the CFOs, and 33 percent of them said they have experienced a cyberattack. Of these, 64 percent said they experienced only one or two attacks, but almost a quarter said they have experienced more than six security incidents.

The cost of each attack was placed at less than $10,000 by 61 percent of the CFOs. A smaller number—14 percent—said each attack cost their businesses between $10,000 and $50,000.

Some 47 percent of the CFOs said they either already have full-time staff dedicated to cybersecurity, or plan to hire one soon. Despite the buzz surrounding cutting-edge technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, CFOs are focused on laying a solid foundation of processes and business systems. In fact, close to half of the CFOs surveyed said they are not using now, nor do they plan to use, any of the cutting-edge technologies in the next three years. Of these advanced technologies, CFOs are most bullish on AI and machine learning. Some 35 percent of CFOs are using this technology today or plan to in the next three years. Some 74 percent of them believe AI and machine learning will improve the finance department.

Today’s typical finance department is far from fully automated. CFOs use spreadsheets for an average of 2.24 hours per day, accounting for the largest percentage of the average CFO’s day.

Many CFOs realize the need to improve these processes and are working on implementing better systems, such as cloud-based enterprise resource planning systems, or optimizing the ones they have. In fact, better and faster reporting (55 percent), increased data visibility (41 percent) and implementing new financial software (39 percent) are all top priorities for CFOs in the next two years—key capabilities built into cloud-based and AI-enabled systems such as Oracle NetSuite. On top of that, 52 percent of CFOs ranked accounting and finance software as the first or second highest driver of change in the next five years.