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The empowered enterprise: How CFOs are putting insight at the heart of a purpose and performance-driven business


“While we’ve been focused on making progress for many years already now, we have now taken a much more transformational approach on ESG topics. We want to see that as something where we can be a leader – not only in our industry but more broadly.”


Demanding more


The journey that many in finance will go on – from training and qualifying to mastering the basics of running the numbers in a responsive business – is becoming more intense and demanding as technology drives change.


Indeed, Fitzpatrick argues that the changes wrought by digital transformation represent both an opportunity and a challenge for the CFO to embed a sense of purpose across the organisation. And that requires moving beyond mission statements and offering career development options that get the best out of staff.


“As finance leaders in the past we have hired people with finance and accounting degrees and some level of expertise in management information systems,” explains Fitzpatrick, “but they’ve only used a fraction of those skillsets day-to-day because a lot of what they do involves pulling data from multiple disparate systems and consolidating it into a spreadsheet just in time for a meeting the next day.” Now, with companies making more use of data- led analytics, employees are fully able to use the skills they gained at university and business experience they’ve acquired while working – that they’ve always wanted to apply – which can go a long way to improving recruitment and retention of talented staff. The more fulfilled they are, the more likely they are to stay on with the business.


“As fi nance leaders in the past, we have hired people with fi nance and accounting degrees and some level of expertise in management information systems, but they’ve only used a fraction of those skillsets day-to-day.”


Ed Fitzpatrick, CFO, Genpact


With finance now expected to use data to deliver more strategic advice, it’s not surprising that more CFOs are focusing on harnessing technology to liberate staff from the ‘handle-turning’ duties.


A look in the mirror Increasingly, CFOs must ask whether they are up to the task of empowering others to deliver on the


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business’s stated purpose? And do they know where their own strengths and weaknesses lie? “I think increasingly we now have to step back and critically assess where improvements are necessary and where to focus our attention,” Fitzpatrick says.


By assessing company core competencies and identifying areas of weakness, CFOs can enhance their understanding of how technology can help the business and free up precious management time to address more strategic, purpose-led issues. “I think the element of trust has risen in importance,” says Standard Chartered’s Halford. “It’s all very well having good systems but at the end of the day, most systems report on what’s just happened, whereas in fact what you need to be focusing on is what’s about to happen and that tends to be about how the team is doing.” Many of the issues facing finance teams now tend to be about communication particularly since Covid hit – Halford says he focused the time previously spent elsewhere taking more calls with his people to allow for as much discourse and collaboration as possible.


“Many of those were quick check-ins; they didn’t have to be long calls, just ‘How are things going?’ Helping them to feel able, if they were troubled by something, to pick up the phone or get on the VC and talk about it. Our purpose was to explain that a problem shared was better solved by early interaction and teamwork.”


A new normal Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that challenges will grow. But smart businesses can harness technology to better understand their place in the world and communicate to their stakeholders what they’re doing to make it a better place. In doing so, businesses are able to not only ask the bigger, tougher questions, but they can also begin to find the answers.


Fitzpatrick firmly believes that in order to take a leading role in shaping the company’s purpose, the CFO has to get out of the traditional silo and grab the opportunity to demonstrate how finance – through the smart use of technology and careful business-wide implementation – can serve as an engine for change. “It’s a lot to do with the allocation of my time and the ability to do certain things,” Fitzpatrick comments. “Thanks to automation and smarter tools, more tedious tasks are being left behind. And as things get easier, I’m able to get more focused on the bigger strategic questions that face the business, and to support the business in delivering on its purpose, which is exactly what the CFO of today should be doing.” ●


Finance Director Europe / www.ns-businesshub.com


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