How CFOs Act as Force-Multipliers for Business Growth

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Today’s CFOs have their task cut out for them.

From managing and mitigating historic levels of uncertainty to striking the right return on investment (ROI) from the crowded field of digital innovations and solutions promising to transform work, all the way to monitoring macroeconomic trends and surging geopolitical risk — it has never been more crucial for chief financial officers (CFOs) to work to ensure they are making their businesses more resilient and better positioned to invest for growth.

“Being a strategic CFO means that you are in the business of the business. One of the measures of a finance team’s success is feeling very much in the business as opposed to being a separate back office or mid-office function,” Burt Chao, CFO at Pushpay, told PYMNTS for the series “A Day In The Life of a CFO.”

“A day in the life starts with what the business needs,” Chao said.

And what businesses need more and more is resilience and flexibility, two operational elements that highlight the importance of business partner CFOs aligning financial strategy tightly with enterprise-wide objectives.

Given the realities of today’s backdrop, the worst thing for CFOs to do is to build a finance function that’s isolated in a dark conference room setting financial targets and projections on an island, Chao said.

“Efficiency only gets accomplished by having a two-way dialogue, a conversation with the rest of the business, as opposed to just a one-way set of rules and proclamations,” he said, adding that while “old school CFOs were the ‘no police’ … flexibility in today’s environment requires not only proactively generating opportunity but also managing risk by understanding what mistakes a business can afford to make on the path to success.”

People, Process and Tools Define Success

As the CFO role evolves from a traditional controllership function to a more strategic and forward-looking position at the leadership table, committed to driving the organization’s strategic goals, the on-paper realities of both finance teams and their internal workflows are transforming too.

“Internally, the sharpest and most important tool you have are your own people,” Chao said.

Within the modern CFO’s expanded role as a business strategist, technology can serve as a force-multiplier but should not be treated as a panacea for all corporate ills and frictions.

Data analytics, robotic process automation and even artificial intelligence (AI) all have roles to play within the finance function, though Chao advocated a measured approach.

“We’re not trying to be leading-edge with unproven technologies that could undermine customer trust. The best route is focusing first on hiring the right people, defining resilient processes, then leveraging systems to scale … codifying what we have learned into more automated and more repeatable process,” he said. “We need to make sure we are balancing innovation with structure and reliability.”

Finance as a Multi-Dimensional Organization Driving Results

Keeping a scorecard of expenses is an easy way for today’s CFOs to fall behind the myriad and multifaceted operational risks they are continually faced with — rather, they need to embrace a go-forward strategy designed to drive better business outcomes.

Educating the broader organization on financial principles and ROI-driven decision-making is a critical aspect of successful CFOs. By ensuring and fostering a common language across different functions, finance teams can ensure that decisions are made with a clear understanding of their financial implications, Chao said.

Looking ahead, Chao’s primary advice for aspiring CFOs is to focus on people. “Organizations are collections of people, and as a leader, your role is to support the entire organization,” he said. “My aspiration is for CFOs to be seen as business leaders first and functional experts second. We can’t just be siloed financial tacticians, but drivers of educational vigor around ROI discipline for all.”

By prioritizing people, embracing technology thoughtfully and fostering open communication, CFOs can significantly contribute to their organizations’ long-term success. As the discussion with Pushpay’s Chao revealed, the modern CFO is not just a financial gatekeeper but a pivotal player in driving strategic growth and innovation.


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