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COVID Is Accelerating the CFO Evolution

October 28th, 2020

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Chief Financial Officers have been playing an ever greater role in business management and strategy since the title was first used in the 1960s.

The evolution of CFO from keeper of the records and reporter of numbers to strategist has been underway for years, accelerated by the Great Recession and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report on this evolution says the pandemic has expanded the role of CFOs as businesses struggle to maintain their equilibrium in the face of unprecedented changes. While CFOs believe their role is growing in significance, CEOs are even more certain.

The survey that forms a key part of the report by the Institute of Management Accountants and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants found 72% of financial managers at all levels saying the CFO role will “increase or increase significantly” over the next few years. 82% of CEOs see that happening.

The pandemic, the survey respondents said, has had an impact on that evolution and on how it has altered their view of the role. Curiously, CFOs themselves see the effect as more modest compared to CEOs. Where just over a quarter of CFOs perceived the impact of COVID as changing their views of the CFO role completely or significantly, over 50% of CEOs said that.

Indeed, the survey participants said that for CEOs, leadership, strategic insight and ethics and trust are the most valued characteristics of CFOs. While the CFO respondents agreed these with the CEOs, they didn't score them as high.They also saw characteristics such as customer centricity and global experience as much more valuable than did the CEOs.

In discussing the report with AccountingToday, IMA Vice President of Research and Policy Raef Lawson said that the survey and multiple roundtables with business leaders bears out the predictions made a decade ago about the changing role of financial leaders.

“We had predicted that the role of the CFO would be transitioning from financial reporting and stewardship to more of the strategic business partnership role, more engaged through external stakeholders. That’s all taken place. The interesting thing is that the pandemic seems to have just accelerated this change.”

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Photo by Adeolu Eletu

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