The view from the top: CEOs see a powerful future for the CFO

The View from the top

CEOs are looking to their CFOs to expand their focus beyond governance and regulatory requirements, to harness technology and to enhance their role by contributing as a strategic growth partner in the C-suite. Many CEOs are not sure if their CFO is the right person to handle talent management and contribute to big-picture thinking.

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The View from the Top is a new KPMG survey, conducted in collaboration with Forbes Insights, which explores the attributes of a high-performing CFO and the expectations that CEOs, business owners, chairmen of large companies, and thought leaders have of their finance function.

It reveals that there is a clear disconnect between the actual performance of the CFOs and the expectations of their bosses. For filling this gap, CFOs need to focus more on understanding their stakeholders and not remain within their finance bubble. They need to be more of a business leader and less of a finance executive.

Another important issue highlighted in the survey is that CEOs place huge value on people skills and don’t believe their CFOs are managing their finance teams well enough. Wider business partnering and leadership skills are now seen as core competencies on top of finance skills, and as a result, CFOs need to ensure they, and their teams up-skill sufficiently to meet those expectations.

The CFO must assess the ever-expanding amount of data (including non-financial information) for relevance to create insights and foresights that facilitate better and faster business decisions. A third issue concerns the higher regulatory burden. The value of the CFO decreases when they are perceived to be bogged down in compliance and risk issues.

The key highlights of the publication are as follows:

  • One-third of CEOs feel their CFOs are not up to the challenge. Thirty-two percent say their CFOs don't understand or assist them with the challenges that they face with running their organizations.
  • CEOs have set the bar high for CFOs. About 72% of CEOs from high-performing organizations believe that the role of CFOs will increase in importance over the next three years, as compared with other C-suite roles.
  • CEOs value growth-oriented initiatives the most and traditional areas of the finance function the least. Big-picture thinking and strategic approach are the most important attributes that CFOs should have, say 49% of CEOs.
  • Technology will be a make-or-break test for CFOs. Sixty-three percent of CEOs from high-performing organizations believe that technology will have the greatest effect on the future role of CFOs.
  • CFOs need to transform the regulatory burden into an opportunity — or at least avoid getting mired in it to the detriment of big-picture thinking. Forty-three percent believe that the stringent regulatory environment is impeding the CFO's ability to focus on other areas, while 42% see the regulatory environment as an opportunity to derive competitive advantage.
  • CEOs highly value people skills, and many see their CFOs as lacking in them. Eighty percent of CEOs from high-performing organizations say that nothing is more important than talent management, but many also believe their CFOs can and should do a better job of managing their teams.

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