In the face of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and cultural shifts, the country had to adapt and transform, and that’s no less true for business leaders. While the CFO may have once seen their role as more strictly tied to the bottom line and the world of numbers, in recent years financial leaders have had to wrestle with digital transformation, employee burnout, talent shortages and more. These shifts sometimes require new skillsets, fresh staffing considerations and reconsidered resource allocations. Here, we overview some of the key changes CFOs have encountered, and perspectives on how they can meet the moment and tackle challenges even while standing on uneven ground.

The Digital Transformation and Your Tech Needs

The need to adapt to a rapidly digitized financial world is often listed as a top concern for CFOs, and that’s because adopting technology involves a complex web of resources, talent and processes. But, the transformation brings the ability to revive outdated financial processes: automate accounts payable, employ software that can streamline accounting changes, and turn to AI to track daily tasks and recommend efficiencies. But, to propel your business into the future of tech, you’ll need to lay some groundwork. IT departments need to have bandwidth unlocked to institute automations, and to implement and upkeep new software. Cybersecurity processes need to be assessed to make sure virtually handled processes are secure.

Not sure where to start? If you’re new to automation or your systems could use refreshing, look into robotic process automation (RPA), including the next wave of automation: intelligent automation, otherwise known as RPA 2.0. And if you’re worried that automating processes will write your employees out of their jobs, look at it through a different lens. With the talent shortage still going strong and employee workloads snowballing, automation is an opportunity to keep workloads realistic; reroute employee attention to the most vital tasks; and potentially dedicate resources innovating, expanding and looking forward.

Finding, Retaining & Supporting Your Talent

The challenges of the past few years have taken their toll on us all, and your employees are no exception. The pandemic brought along with it health crises, childcare gaps and transitions to new ways of living and working. Throw inflation into the equation and you’ve found the recipe for The Great Resignation. And it’s not over yet. Despite some signs of cooling, the job market remains hot, and talent can be hard to come by.

Finance teams are no less in demand and are subject to the same concerns regarding burn out and mental health. To keep the employees you have, you want to make sure they feel supported in the face of so much upheaval. For the CFO whose role was primarily centered on organizational financial health, dealing with burnout and employee mental health might be uncharted territory. But, there are steps you can take to better equip yourself to lead the conversation, especially since executive leadership sets the tone for workplace culture. Many CFOs cite a lack of fluency in mental-health conversations as a barrier, but training can help you take concrete steps toward creating a more supportive work environment.

To find talent in a strapped labor market, consider when and how you can use temporary employees to fill gaps, fulfill project backlogs and trial new processes. When you’ve identified a long-term need, strategize around attracting employees by offering them positions that reflect their values; for that, you may have to consider what new generations of workers look for, and how you can deliver it.

Taking an Eye Toward Social Factors

Customers are increasingly demanding that companies take action and communicate about the ways they care for people and the planet. The push matters for financial leaders, because a company’s profitability and brand value can be tied to their social responsiveness in today’s economy. Companies like Lego, Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia and Nike have made a push to broadcast the ways they’re making thoughtful social and cultural business decisions – efforts grounded in corporate social responsibility.

CFOs can find clear intersections – and opportunities for action – between this renewed cultural focus and their financial responsibility when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs. ESG matters for public and private companies alike, especially as environmental regulations come down the pipeline that will affect public companies directly, as well as the customers and suppliers they engage. ESG also represents an attempt to implement and assess social responsiveness such that data gathered can determine future decision-making, including in the financial realm. Financial leaders report better strategic alignment between ESG programs and financial strategy when they’re directly involved, and – importantly – developing robust ESG programs also represents an opportunity to mitigate risk.

Rethinking Processes Through Innovation

A common thread among the ways CFOs’ roles have changed is a push for forward-thinking strategy and innovation. One way for CFOs to engage in innovation is through research and development (R&D) opportunities, some of which are attached to tax incentives. Eligible R&D activities must pass a four-part test, including: introduce or improve processes, products or software; be technological in nature; aim to eliminate uncertainty; and center on processes of experimentation. The intricacies of incentives make it important to meticulously detail and document R&D projects, and to engage a professional who can help cross-check projects for defensibility – especially given increased IRS scrutiny of these tax incentives.

What you might now know: your organization could already be engaging in R&D efforts. And, R&D might represent opportunities to align environmental, social and governance programs with innovations that center environmentally conscious processes. A qualified tax professional can help make sure you’re capitalizing on opportunities for innovation in a way that doesn’t put your business at risk.

The world as we know it has shifted in unprecedented and unforeseen ways that have taken all of us out of our comfort zones, compelling us to engage our work in ways that are often complex. At the end of the day, the ways CFOs and business leaders have been forced to stretch amidst economic, cultural and social upheaval will come with growing pains. But growth also involves an opportunity to think in ways that are fresh, flexible and creative. Those who see change as an opportunity to resee their world may be rewarded with a place at the forefront of whatever comes next.

Published on October 04, 2022