There’s a new player shaking up the power ranking of C-level executives at many companies. A few years ago, when data analytics was still one of the primary responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer, it looked like this C-title would become the right-hand to the CEO. However, a surprise player has been moving into this number two position. Elevated in large part by the convergence of data analytics and finance, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is increasingly taking center stage in the strategy and direction of the organization.
Over the last decade, CFOs have been taking on more corporate responsibility and expanding their influence far beyond their original number crunching roles. As business strategies and boardroom decisions become more dependent on real time financial analysis and insights, the CFO naturally becomes more central to the heart of business operations. Twitter’s recent CEO shakeup is a prime example of how the CFO’s domain has changed. Many industry experts are betting that CFO Anthony Noto, who is already taking on marketing responsibilities, will also take over as the company’s fourth CEO. In less than a year, Noto has taken a very public leadership role, spearheading major business deals, pushing for bold acquisitions, helping mold Twitter’s content strategy, and now stepping in to tell the product story.
Noto’s appointment would not be a unique move as recent analysis from Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc. shows that 25 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs today are former CFOs and that this trend is on the rise.
Recognizing the Office of Finance as a Power Player
Money follows power, and the changing CFO role is being recognized as one of the most powerful executive positions. This spring, Ruth Porat grabbed headlines with a $70 million package to leave the CFO spot at Morgan Stanley and take the position at Google.
And today, companies are finding more power — and generating more business revenue — by leveraging data analytics. Smart business strategy, informed by data analytics can translate directly into dollars and cents. In many cases, the CFO has become the de facto data officer, tracking this information in order to track the money.
This puts CFOs in the cross hairs of C-Suite leadership decisions and reporting directly to the CEO to help make the strategic decisions that will generate company value. With a data-driven eye on all areas of a company’s business performance, the CFO is well positioned to foster innovation, drive company growth, and manage business transformation.
Adaptive Insights’ CFO Indicator Survey of more than 325 CFOs shows how finance chiefs are thinking about and acting on their evolving role. A large majority (70 percent) report that finance is already at the center of business and driving strategic decision-making, and nearly as many (69 percent) intend to take on more strategic leadership roles in the next two years. More than half cite a culture of analytics as a key competitive advantage in today’s business climate.
Leading with Analytics to Navigate Dynamic Markets
CFOs are increasing their strategic value across the organization at a critical time, managing business success through dynamic and often volatile markets. The CFO survey also uncovered that chiefs of finance have a bird’s eye view of the economy and current market conditions, suggesting that they’re in a strong position to advise the C-suite on important business risks and macroeconomic stressors. Nearly 60 percent have high confidence in their regional economy, but their confidence drops to 37 percent when global factors are considered. When considering the private market, 69 percent predict significant growth in private market funding and 38 percent anticipate an increase in private companies valued at or above $1 billion.
In these rapidly evolving markets, the rules of financial management change quickly and finance leaders are looking for new toolsets to navigate what can be tumultuous landscapes with real-time data insights. The CFO survey also revealed that over the next two years, 55 percent of finance chiefs plan to increase their investment in financial technologies.
For today’s CFO, it’s no longer just a numbers game. As they become the officers in charge of financial and corporate strategy, they are tasked with the enormous challenge of analyzing data from every corner of the organization — from aggregation and visualization to dissemination of data, as well as collaboration across business functions. If they can instill a culture of analytics and leverage the right technologies, they’ll be well poised to fully become the second in command and perhaps even claim the head spot at the executive table.
Sergio Monsalve is a partner at Norwest Venture Partners.
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