Bean there, counted that…

When I was approached recently to be part of a panel discussion on a board’s expectation of its Chief Financial Officer – or CFO – I thought: that’s easy enough.

But in preparing for the event, it dawned on me just how dramatically the CFO’s role has changed over the past decade, so dramatic, in fact, that I thought it worth sharing with you.

Back then, a short 10 years ago, your average CFO was predominantly concerned with budgeting, accounting, the financial statements and the considerable paperwork that accompanies all these important activities.

I’m no great fan of the term but they were what everyday parlance would call ‘bean counters’.

You could say they’ve ‘bean there, counted that’ and are now seen as the second-in-command to and the key business partner of the Chief Executive Officer.

Now, they need an in-depth understanding of the organisation, the space within which it operates, the business drivers and what can be done to enhance innovation, seize opportunity and deliver that essential point of difference.

Today, they spend a lot more time on the strategic work and operating issues, delegating their earlier functions to a skilled finance team.

They’re also now expected to be more a manager than a controller, the fundamental shift taking them from a controller of risk to one who manages it and takes calculated risks that are balanced against the rewards that may follow.

The changing role has understandably demanded a raft of new skills and attributes, key among them a far more strategic approach to everything they do.

There’s now an expectation that any CFO worth his or her salt will be able to provide really meaningful financial information and accounts to the board at board meetings, the focus being more on ‘quality’ than ‘quantity’.  Information about trends and an overview of the key points coming out of the financials is the new vernacular as it gives the board a profound understanding and allows it to arrive at strategic conclusions.

The new age CFO is also a true leader and communicator, building relationships within the company and beyond.

Armed with real-time financial information and having their fingers on the pulse of other KPIs such as customer satisfaction and staff attitude, they’re a crucial sounding board for boards grappling with how best to manage and measure the rollout of strategic initiatives.

They also provide the vital link between the board and internal financial team, between members of the audit committee and the internal auditors. And they’re there to engage in open dialogue in board meetings and outside of them.

That’s before we mention their external role, where they’re expected to interact with the investment community beyond shareholders and embrace the likes of investment analysts and ratings agencies. Making sure they’re well versed in what the company’s up to and providing them with all the pertinent information they require to arrive at informed decisions on the company and its stock.

Bean counters? Perish the thought…

Until next time,


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2 thoughts on “Bean there, counted that…

  1. Kate I would strongly agree with you for the CFO role, however I think this is part of a broader requirement for executives to have a holistic view of the business, and to think about the customer value streams not just the silo in which they operate. This was I suspect the original intent of the MBA as a top up for discipline specific roles. I also see a strong case for the Chief Marketing Executive to be the Digital strategist, as opposed to the IT manager. I think it highlights that the skill sets of each functional department are changing and each executive needs to have a much broader view of the company.

  2. Hi Robert,
    So good to hear from you. I completely agree with you. Every executive in the leadership team should have a strategic view across the whole company.

    If you ever want to write a blog about this as a gust blogger of Governance Matters we would love you too. We have a journalist who crafts the final words.
    Kind regards,

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