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Building Perspective Beyond Dollars & Cents

The role of the modern finance executive

The Modern Finance Executive

Finance executives are increasingly finding themselves in roles that aren’t solely defined by the margins of P&L statements. From chief financial officers to accounting managers, a skillset that was once primarily responsible for measuring dollars and cents is evolving to integrate analytics that assess different aspects of an organization’s health, as well as take on leadership roles that influence culture.

The job description of today’s finance executive may include analyzing data analytics; leading teams outside of accounting departments; possessing soft skills such as effective communication, conflict management, and negotiation; enhancing culture; and a penchant for storytelling from a data perspective.

A Focus on Data

While not every finance executive will take on all these roles, data analytics is one area that is becoming a significant focus. A Deloitte survey found that 18 percent of respondents from leading corporations say CFOs should own analytics. At the same time, 79 percent of respondents say finance is the area most often found to invest in analytics.

The challenge is identifying areas where analytics can illuminate the value of a particular aspect of a business. To do this, it’s helpful to understand the purpose of the analytics and how they apply to a business unit. Finance executives should ask themselves whether the analytics help describe, diagnose, predict, or prescribe something. Once this is articulated, it will help define how certain analytics contribute to better management of operations. It is also important to report analytics consistently to establish a track record and credibility.

Cross-Functional Capabilities

Another way finance executives are broadening their scope of expertise is by experiencing other business units. For example, the author of this article is a CFO who oversees marketing for a tech and talent solutions company. While it’s unusual for CFOs to lead marketing teams, there are dynamics that dovetail with the skillset of a finance executive.

Understanding the scope and value of a marketing campaign is one area where a background in finance comes in handy. There is also a lot of value for non-financial executives to experience finance. The greater the understanding and appreciation people have for each other’s departments, the more cohesion within the organization.

A Balance of Skills

Finance executives are often known for their “hard” or quantitative skills, but that doesn’t mean they can’t excel at “soft” skills. The ability to communicate effectively is a primary skillset for any finance executive trying to help stakeholders make sense of today’s business climate. From Wall Street to Main Street, CFOs are being called on to connect the dots for a wide variety of audiences, including investors, boards of directors, media, and customers.

The C-suite is also looking to finance executives for more objective opinions when it comes to conflict resolution and negotiations. This is where a blend of hard and soft skills is helpful, setting the stage for creating a culture that is more balanced.

The Outlook for Finance Executives

The sum of these parts help redefine the identity of today’s finance executive. Many of our colleagues will be taking on new roles and titles this year outside of accounting departments that leverage their financial acumen. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for operations research analysts is expected to grow 23 percent by 2031, which is a lot faster than most occupations. This is one area where finance executives will thrive beyond dollars and cents.

Additional Resources

The Evolving Role of Chief Financial Officers

Webinar: The Future of Finance Roles in a Changing Talent Landscape

Hard Skills

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