4 strategic priorities for the modern CFO

Today’s CFOs want — and need — to be strategic. But more and more, they’re forced to be merely tactical.

Amid mounting inflation and widespread economic uncertainty, CEOs are calling on finance chiefs to drive big-picture solutions for revenue growth and cost savings. In an increasingly digital landscape, integrating new technologies and data analytics to do so is paramount. Meanwhile, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), ESG, and corporate sustainability will only become more important in years to come, and CFOs have a role to play in translating these goals into tangible actions.

It’s a new business world, one which requires leadership agility and new standards of excellence — and this calls for a new kind of CFO. Here are four key priorities executives should focus on.

  1. Have courageous conversations

CFOs aren’t always known for being the best communicators. But in today’s labor market, that has to change. You’re going to lose your best people if you don’t motivate your less engaged ones to do better. It’s also more costly to hire a new worker than to upskill an existing one.

Be very clear about pain points, the steps they can take to improve, and what you can promise if they achieve them. Accept the difficulty of these conversations. And you don’t have to wait until there’s a problem — have clear, courageous conversations early and consistently from day one to drive retention.

  1. Become fluent in digital

Amid widespread labor shortages and cost pressures, nearly half of the executives surveyed in a recent report said self-service data and analytics could drive employee productivity; others cite the beneficial use of automation and artificial intelligence in areas like accounts payable, invoices, and forecasting.

But integrating these tools is no simple feat. CFOs need to understand what technologies are out there, how to deploy them strategically, and how to best acclimate employees to new tools. That requires technical expertise, an emphasis on continuous innovation, and collaboration with IT departments to ensure the right data is captured and aligned with key business goals. It also entails moving away from finance’s traditionally held notions about technology.

  1. Upskill employees in innovative ways

Upskilling has taken on fresh urgency in today’s talent market. CFOs trained to follow the hard numbers might not have as much experience with the soft skills needed to develop talent effectively. This exercise is less about addressing a team’s finance-related questions — they’re already experts in that area — and more about nurturing talent more broadly, be it around topics like leadership, customer relationships, or strategic transformations.

On that front, CFOs should also take advantage of a variety of channels. Remote learning can reach more people, but it needs to have features — like polling questions — to make it interactive and engaging. At the same time, digital-first workers are increasingly looking for training on the go: real-time answers to issues that they can look up and find quickly and efficiently. Throughout, communication is critical. Employees don’t just want to be another cog in the machine — to truly make behavioral changes, they’ll have to know why they’re developing a given skill and how this work fits into the broader picture.

  1. Understanding purpose

This is a fairly new concept for most CFOs. But now is the time to evolve for the better. For instance, when we recruit, we now lead with our community engagement programs and DE&I commitments. The key is to ensure these community initiatives align with your firm’s overall corporate purpose and vision and vice versa.

ESG and corporate sustainability are part of this endeavor, too. CFOs will be increasingly responsible for sharing, reporting, and quantifying the narrative around these efforts while managing the investments that go into making them a reality. The accounting and finance function might even be one solution to the problem of current ESG reporting, and progressive CFOs can be leaders in this area.

A new team

To meet the demands of today’s fast-paced business world, CFOs must figure out how to manage new technologies, a new team dynamic, and a workforce that likely has different professional experiences and expectations.


Adapted from: “4 Strategic Priorities for the Modern CFO”, by Chris Spurio, president of financial services at CBIZ, an accounting, insurance, and advisory firm, published on CFO News on 27 January 2023.

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