The roles in the office of finance have been fairly well defined for many years. Traditionally thought of as number-crunchers, the finance team was expected to do little more than keep tabs on cash flow and shepherd the budget.
Today, as companies continue to adopt and evolve their use of technology, the roles of CFOs, controllers and financial analysts are changing, and technology has had a significant part to play in both driving and enabling those changes. These differences come into sharp relief at the beginning of the year, as the team prepares for the first quarterly budget review with the board.
What do the roles for the modern office of finance look like now? And what part does technology have to play in these changes?
The Office of Finance, Reimagined
Each of the roles in the finance team has evolved. The office of finance, now more than ever, is expected to be a strategic partner to the rest of the business. These shifts are becoming more apparent to the rest of the organization and events, like quarterly budget reviews, make it clear that the CFO and their team are pivotal to the company in new and expanding ways.
In 2018, McKinsey & Company’s bi-annual survey of CFOs showed a significant shift in the position’s responsibilities. As the study found, the CFO has taken on overseeing more roles within the organization, including managing procurement and, most dramatically, enterprise and digital transformation. But these additional responsibilities are merely a reflection of the expanded strategic position the CFO now holds.
This evolved role is a direct result of the technology that now drives much of the office of finance. Nearly all business data flows through the finance team, giving the CFO a 360-degree view of the organization that other leadership positions don’t have access to. It is this data that is the CFO’s greatest ally as a strategic partner, but also their biggest challenge. The CFO and his team must adopt cutting edge technology and automation solutions to continue to add value to the company.
As CFOs have shifted to roles of greater responsibility and reach, controllers have come in to back-fill the tasks that were traditionally handled by the CFO. In the past, it would have been unthinkable for the controller to be able to take over the financial responsibilities of their C-suite leader, but with FP&A software, big data, automation and large scale data analysis, controllers look to technology to do the heavy lifting that this role used to do manually. Instead of directly managing thousands of transactions, pattern recognition and predictive analytics now point to potential issues.
Financial analysts have moved from only needing a firm understanding of financial concepts to needing to grasp the complexities of business intelligence and data visualization. Combining technical skills with knowledge of the business’s financials makes analysts crucial members of the CFO’s strategic arsenal. But to be able to leverage the data to its fullest, data analysts need access to tools that accelerate the processing of the information. These tools mean that financial analysts can help quickly guide the company as to the right time to hire, invest, and even begin major projects, keeping the business ahead of the competition.
Accountants & Bookkeepers
While other roles have changed dramatically in their overall definition and expectations, technology has changed the day-to-day positions of accountants and bookkeepers the most. Instead of spending time chasing down data and entering it, integrations mean data can be automatically fed from other source systems into the reports and balance sheets that bookkeepers need to do their jobs.
Accountants can spend less time doing hands-on validation and data manipulation into reports, allowing accounting applications to do this automatically. Instead, their time can be spent defining the best reporting workflows while interpreting the financial data flowing into the finance team.
How Technology Impacts the New Roles in Finance
Obviously, based on these role definitions, technology plays a major part in the re-imagining of the office of finance.
It doesn’t stop with only changing the tasks of the team, but also impacts what and when they are able to provide insights and information. Removing manual tasks and validation from the finance team’s to-dos means reconciliation and reporting are done sooner and with more accuracy.
For this time of year, that means more time spent on the analysis of the budget before presentation to the board, and deeper and more meaningful insights into the first-quarter results. Clear data visualizations created by the finance team help board members and the C-suite quickly understand the challenges and opportunities that the office of finance is able to uncover, thanks to their expertise and the tools at their disposal.
The result? The combination of their new strategic roles and the addition of the right technology to carry through on those expectations allows the finance team to offer tremendous value to the business.
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