The CFO Leadership Council recently hosted its 9th annual national conference in Boston. Andrey Alekseyev and I were fortunate enough to be in attendance for the first time. Over 400 senior financial executives gathered in Boston, MA for two days to discuss and dig deep into the complexities of being a modern CFO. In case you missed it, we took notes. Below are our key takeaways and summaries of a few memorable sessions.
As you would expect, CFOs are focused on the staples of financial success—namely, ROI and outcomes. But the modern CFO is also concerned with far more than just the finance function of their organization. Today’s CFOs are invested in digital transformation and what technology can do for their business across the entire organization. In a way, this strategic shift has revolutionized the role of forward-looking CFO.
Executive Presence and Communication
In the opening keynote, Christina Spade of CBS stressed the importance of communication in the role of the modern CFO. For finance professionals to be successful, it won’t be solely because of technical proficiency (which was assumed of the audience at this event). According to Spade, success is contingent upon the ability of the CFO to influence the entire organization. They must be highly involved as a partner across the many functions of their business in order to have a positive impact.
Personally, I see the ability to make such an impact as a vital piece of the puzzle—not only for an executive’s individual professional development but also for the long-term outlook of an organization. The technology at our disposal has revolutionized accounting and finance functions, allowing for automation to replace rote tasks and eliminate possibilities for mistakes.
However, technology has not eliminated the need for finance and accounting people altogether. Rather, it has intensified the need for finance leaders to be strong communicators across all departments to ensure new systems are properly implemented and leveraged for the greatest ROI and optimal outcome.
Finance professionals don’t just need to “know the numbers” anymore. They need to know the people they work with, Spade said, and to spend most of their time with team members and business partners, not spreadsheets.
Technology, Disruption, and Change
It became clear rather quickly, listening to the subsequent series of eye-opening talks on implementation successes and failures, that Spade was right: one of the great needs of a modern organization is strong communication across departments. Communication is required to drive successful outcomes of technology rollouts and digital transformations.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Timothy Zue, CFO of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, built on the insights of the speakers before him. Zue gave a compelling example of how a communicative CFO can create value through interdepartmental influence.
The Red Sox organization has been mining data to make smarter, more informed decisions. The team relies more and more on things like statistical analyses of ad campaigns. In one example, they asked questions like, “Who are we targeting with our season ticket ad campaigns? And why?,” helping the organization put together more targeted marketing material, geared towards the people showing real interest in the team, and finding them in the medium that is most likely to pique their interest. By leveraging technology, they were able to gather better metrics, leading to better strategies and outcomes.
The better outcomes are a gold star for the finance and accounting function, but the truth is, they couldn’t have accomplished all they did without the many other business functions they work alongside. Starting with strong communication and interdepartmental collaboration, they leveraged technology to bring about a worthwhile digital transformation.
At the end of the day, there are an abundance of new technologies being developed and used by companies around the world for the purpose of solving the traditional problems organizations face. But without a smooth implementation, getting from point A to point B is easier said than done. And if the implementation is not effective, digital transformation does not take hold.
As evidenced by the content of this conference, CFOs and financial professionals have bought in on the importance of digital transformations and implementations. And much like their CIO counterparts, they are actively working on the skills they need to ensure long-term success.