Does the modern CFO have a split personality?

February 7, 2018
Daniël Horn

Omni-channel, superconvenient and lightning-speed service; the needs of today's customer are clear. Efficiency, productivity and cost-savings; management of organisations more often than not know how to put their agendas into words as well. The modern CFO is charged with the task of meeting all of these requirements. Steady progress in backoffice process automation must be ensured while facilitating innovation at the organisation's front, all at the same time. Is the modern CFO required to have a split personality in order to facilitate this process?

Customers today expect to do business on all channels and count on quick and realtime support. Meanwhile the product life-cycle is getting shorter: organisations are exploring new products and business models at large. Because of today's rapid progress in technology, companies get the opportunity to innovate and experiment right at the 'front' of the organisation. Chatbots for providing customer support to newcomers in the financial market, is an example. With the help of artificial intelligence these robotic consultants provide personalised advise, in contrast to the one-to-many communication model still employed by many banks and ensurance companies. These innovations at the front of the organisation play a vital part in today's competitive landscape.

All these changes at the front of the organisation aside, an important task of the CFO remain efficient organisation of the backoffice and financial pillar. Efficient processes alone will not suffice in keeping costs in line with those of the competition. There is a lot to be gained from automation and robotisation of specific backend processes. For a financial department for example this means that transactional activities, repetitive rule-based processes are taken care of by process bots. This is called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and it involves a bot using existing tools to execute tasks otherwise performed by financial staff. Even in more complex tasks such as data interpretation for the application of tax regulations, intelligent software is playing an increasingly important role.

Role of the CFO

The CFO plays an important part in these developments, both at the front and the back. No one knows the organisation better than he does which positions him to provide important advice as the CEO's co-pilot. In budget allocation it is vital that he is well informed with regards to technology developments. In other words, what does the marketplace have to offer and how may this contribute to better management of their own organisation. Actively embracing new technology and robotisation also provides the opportunity to reduce the department's cost of delivery. In addition, the CFO can help set up financing models to give innovation and new business models a chance.

Dual mind-set
In my opinion the modern CFO requires a dual mind-set. On the one hand the ideal candidate is capable of automating and robotising the core processes within his department, thereby achieving the required savings and efficiency improvement. On the other hand he provides professionals with the opportunity to experiment with the possibilities of new technology. This allows them to excel in an arena where bots will not be competing any time soon: creativity. The CFO of the future understands that innovation at the front of the organisation is only possible with the accompanying financing and tailor-made KPIs. He is the financier and facilitator of innovations at the front as well as the driving force behind optimisation at the back of the organisation. In addition, the CFO must expect quite some criticism, as these changes are not always likely to go down easy. Change management, both in terms of IT and people, will therefore become an important part of the modern CFO's responsibilities.