India: Adapt And Enable: Changing Role Of The CFO

Last Updated: 23 January 2019
Article by Shagun Kumar

Even as technological advancements and global trends have swept away traditional business models and upended organisational cultures, change has been relatively slow in coming to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) function.

Not anymore. The role is quickly evolving and CFOs are increasingly looking to recast their department as one that readily adapts to new trends and proactively contributes to a company's long-term goals, rather than simply ticking boxes and maintaining books.

CFO = Chief Facilitation Officer

Finance departments have long been regarded in some quarters as 'bean counters' losing sleep over balancing accounts or 'naysayers' perennially hesitant to sanction business expenses.

But, just as federal governments devolve power and accountability to state administrations, leading CFOs now trust other divisions in their organisations to do the right thing, sending out the message that they are ready to engage, empower and enable, not encumber.

For instance, CFOs typically known to resist rewarding top performers generously, will recognise this as a short-sighted approach. Instead, they will acknowledge the problem of attrition and the cost of hiring and training new employees – a major hurdle to growth particularly in fast-growing markets where talented people are in high demand.

Forward-looking CFOs also now acknowledge that being custodian of every operation is often a wasteful and impossible task. Instead, they are taking on strategic roles, such as analysing competitors, validating new business models, guiding the organisation on geographical expansion to help drive the conversation on market leadership.

As finance divisions put performance partnership – the process of empowering by sharing control, responsibility and accountability– into practice, these efforts are being replicated by other enabling functions as well. For instance, legal departments are increasingly providing proactive guidance to head off future complications unlike in the past when they would be called upon only during times of crises.

In this way, CFOs become Chief Facilitation Officers, leading the charge in interdepartmental cooperation, or performance partnership.

Winning hearts and minds

So, how does a CFO foster mutual cooperation? At TMF Group India's offices, various efforts are underway to achieve this.

Bearing in mind accountants' natural tendency to dive deep into company metrics, members of the finance team are encouraged to take a step back from their spreadsheets to look at the big picture and view challenges from the perspective of other departments.

The team is aided in this effort by a program that allows them to shadow senior executives at client meetings where they are not expected to contribute but merely absorb the interactions. This gives them a feel for high-level discussions, the constraints that other teams operate under, as well as the impact of the accounting division's actions on overall operations and has been welcomed by the clients who are equally people centric.

Effective chief facilitation officers also encourage their teams to choose their own targets while making themselves available to assist in achieving those objectives.

Such actions prove CFOs are willing to bet on their people and take acceptable risks with an eye on long-term growth. In turn, employees are driven to incorporate these values into their daily routines, helping power a company to greater success.

Moving up the value chain

Technology has commoditised data and information and made it instantly available, changing the role of the CFO and their teams. Robotic process automation is expected to take over significant portions of low-skilled finance jobs at companies across sectors, including at TMF Group.

Freed from mundane tasks, finance divisions can devote their time to high-value functions such as gleaning insights from the data at their disposal to inform an organisation's decision-making processes. Encouragingly, finance professionals are embracing this change more readily than ever before, helping them become faster and smarter in delivering value to clients and business partners.

Client demands are also moving up the value chain as they recognise that the future lies not just in keeping the books in order but helping transform the entire corporate culture.

TMF Group, which specialises in accounting, payroll and company secretarial functions, is increasingly looked upon as mini CFOs and called upon by clients to consult on best practices in change management and corporate governance.

With its global reach and local knowledge, TMF Group can help CFOs (and their teams) across markets and sectors transition successfully into chief facilitation officers, and implement performance partnership in their organisations to maximum effect. Talk to us

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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