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The changing CFO: an organization’s voice of conscience

The changing CFO: an organization’s voice of conscience 11

By Marc Linden, EVP, Medium Business Segment at Sage

The global economy has put the spotlight firmly on the CFO. They will be the main strategist and driver behind organizational restructuring, divestments, and acquisitions. Today, however, a CFO’s top priority is to ensure their business survives during the pandemic.

Being the CFO requires a tough mentality and the ability to make difficult decisions under challenging circumstances. Many are chosen for the job based on those qualities. Indeed, according to a report by PWC, 82% of CFOs are focused on cost cutting for the foreseeable future to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

However, now is the time for CFOs to also embrace other skills. Decisions must be made with empathy and redoubled support for their employees and customers. When times are difficult, the CFO has to use their unrivalled insight to do what’s right. It’s not about creating an organization that can survive the next quarter, but years into the future.

The 360° CFO

The pandemic has sent shockwaves across the global economy, upending many businesses. One of the CFO’s most important roles is to guide the organization through that disruption, using empathy and their personal conscience to help the business make the right decisions.

Yet, consciousness is a key part of conscience. In order to make the right decision, a CFO has to be cognizant of the long-term repercussions of their actions across all areas of the business. Another aspect of being the organization’s conscience is helping to digest rapidly changing assumptions about the business and understanding what that will mean.

It’s the CFO’s responsibility to look forward rather than back, to predict and plan for a wide range of business impacts. A CFO cannot simply be reactive; they need to drive the conversation, always considering what might happen should conditions worsen. While CEOs are under great pressure and busy dealing with countless other issues, the CFO needs to make sure they keep challenging those questions.

With full access to organization data and financial management tools, CFOs are in an ideal position to gain a forward-looking, 360° view of their organization. Coupled with this view, the CFO must also analyse and interpret the numbers to inform the decision-making process. However, according to research by Sage, 70% of CFOs still make decisions based on gut feeling. Scenario planning and analysis should now take on a whole new level of importance and be performed on a rolling basis. It’s crucial for knowing where the organization is, and where it could be headed.

A time for activism

As markets across the world fall into recession, COVID-19 won’t be the end of the shocks and upheavals businesses face. As the context changes daily, CFOs need to be the ones who assess the situation with an empathetic, activist eye.

When an organization enters into a challenging period, the CFO’s role is too often framed as the wielder of the axe, and their judgement condensed down to deciding where the axe will fall. Its time organizations took on a broader definition of what CFO success looks like. Crisis or no crisis, it should remain focused on helping the business invest successfully for maximum returns in the long term.

Making cuts might not be the best thing to do; instead, a CFO may see greater benefits from investing in building lasting relationships with employees and customers. For example, as large sections of the economy continue to work from home, CFOs have an important role to play in making sure remote working is driving value for the business. Many organizations have resisted spending any money on ergonomic improvements for home workers, or home office equipment in the past. This is a clear example where the CFO has a unique ability to break through the barriers and boost productivity.

Redundancies and budget cuts are sometimes necessary, but if they’re the first recourse then an organization is in danger of falling into the trap of spiraling productivity and collapsing cash flow. Doing little things to help during a tough time can make a lasting difference in a relationship. CFOs are the ones with the power to advocate investment in customer service, employee productivity and satisfaction.

A source for good

COVID-19 has affected people and businesses in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Organizations must proceed with empathy, while the CFO emerges as the champion of employees and customers. More than any other leader, the CFO has the ability and insight to chart a course through the disruption with positive, targeted investment.

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