What CIOs can offer to the changing role of CFOs

March 24, 2020

First published on Accountancy Today, 24 March 2020. By Andromeda Wood, Senior Director of Data Modeling at Workiva


The introduction of automated services and innovative technology into previously analogue systems and departments, specifically in the office of the CFO, has never been more timely. And now, with many more people working from home, having cloud-based solutions and support is important to ensuring business continuity so employees are able to continue working with minimal disruption. 

As it stands today, almost 75% of businesses rely on over six different reporting systems, and when it comes down to handling sensitive financial information, only 34% of tasks are automated

This lack of automation means financial reporting teams spend too much time on tedious activities like checking and manipulating data, and not enough time on thoughtful analysis. This increases the risk of missing deadlines, making mistakes, reporting erroneous information, and losing sleep at night.

As companies realise the time wastage and inaccuracy caused by manual processes, CFOs are being challenged to think more like CIOs – to begin implementing tech-based solutions to streamline operations and remove risk. 

The role of the CFO is no longer solely as a financial leader – they’ve become technological leaders spearheading the way in modernising traditional processes. 

Because they deal with some of the most sensitive information within businesses, CFOs who learn from their CIO counterparts and implement automated solutions to most vulnerable processes will not only protect themselves from reputational damage, but their companies as well, by eliminating errors and streamlining workflow efficiencies. 

Entering the digital age

Currently, the office of the CFO is embattled; torn between systems and processes they know and trust and automated solutions for the future. CFOs and their finance teams must keep pace with increasing demand from other business units and the regulatory bodies they report to. 

Gone are the days of bookkeeping and account management, particularly as organisations look to move into and comply with the digital age. As digital transformation continues to take hold across organisations, CFOs will increasingly be looking for new technology.  

This is where the CIO can step in to lend a helping hand, and guide CFOs as their roles necessitate. Particularly where teams elsewhere in businesses future-proof their operations, working with the CIO and their team can streamline this process and make everyone’s lives easier. 

By working together, CFOs and CIOs can find solutions that best fit the company’s requirements – whether it’s internal stakeholder management or external reporting. Technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), machine learning, and artificial intelligence all have their place when it comes to ensuring that finance teams are able to properly collect, manage, and report financial data. 

Advocating for automation

Generally, up to 70% of companies’ manual processes can be unlocked through automation. What that means is that by not implementing new technologies, companies waste time, resources, and ultimately, money. That’s why forward-thinking finance departments are already thinking and acting laterally, because when a CFO can start to think like a CIO, everyone benefits. 

The addition of “tech savvy” to the CFO job description will be a must for those wanting to keep pace with our increasingly digital-first world. Computers are already doing the bulk of number crunching and will only improve in their ability to present static figures as insightful visualisations, thus empowering finance teams to spend more time understanding these insights and analysing wider strategic business opportunities and implications. 

Making meaningful connections

Automation can also help CFOs – and the C-Suite as a whole – refine reporting and increase transparency by connecting data. This goes beyond checking that reports are correct the first time to ensuring compliance with regulatory frameworks. Further benefits of connected reporting include: increased collaboration, continued corporate accountability, and the minimisation of errors – all of which can be more difficult to manage and more important to maintain than ever when working remotely. 

Many companies struggle with a rigid reporting process. As many as 60% of CFOs spend an unnecessary amount of time manually cleaning and manipulating data: a process which could – through automation – take a matter of moments. With so much time being wasted, the reporting process is becoming increasingly bloated and confusing, leaving CFOs without a clear handle on operations. 

Training the C-Suite

Regardless of industry, C-Suite executives must contend with their share of challenges, technical and otherwise. Sluggish growth, a changing workforce, changing business models, an explosion of data, and more tightly scrutinised regulatory frameworks – all while cutting costs – mean that they must continue to find ways to modernise. 

That’s where CIOs can step in to take the reins and help train CFOs, and the rest of the C-Suite for that matter. 

It’s no longer enough for CFOs to be the financial leaders of their organisations. Now they must also be technological leaders, pushing for solutions that enable accuracy, efficiency, and transparency. And through building in automated solutions to reporting and financial departments, CFOs are not only streamlining these things, but also encouraging the rest of the organisation to integrate forward-thinking technology to outpace competitors and improve ROI. 

Technology will be essential in the new “office of the CFO’. Anything less is no longer fit for purpose.

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