Australian finance leaders recognise need for a ‘new breed of CFO’

ESG CFO leadership

6 March 2023
| By Rhea Nath |
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A new study has explored how the role of the chief financial officer is changing globally and in Australia to require more than financial expertise.

Sage’s The Redefined CFO study, which surveyed close to 2,000 respondents across the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, found finance leaders increasingly viewed the role of CFO as a ‘hub of business information’ beyond its core DNA of a financial function. 

"Financial leadership today is the most diverse it has ever been,” said Jonathan Howell, Sage CFO. 

“As they evolve, CFOs must blend attributes that allow them to engage in cross-functional decision-making, operate with purpose and future-proof their organisations.”

There was a movement to CFOs being more tech-savvy, the study noted, as they played a "multifaceted role in guiding their organizations on the path to productivity, equity and innovation".

According to the research, over the last 12 months, Australian CFOs had seen increased responsibilities in identifying strategy and future planning (80%), digital transformation (80%), and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives (78%).

Over 90% of respondents believed the role should require the necessarily skills to push the organisation forward in its digital transformation. 

Along with this, CFOs identified the ability to respond and integrate new and emerging technologies as the single greatest issue that would hold their organisation back. These technologies would be key in creating or maintaining a competitive advantage (44%); financial forecasting (42%); and business-wide trend forecasting (41%), they said.

Of the finance leaders surveyed, spanning sectors like retail, healthcare, not-for-profit, and financial services, leaders in retail and financial services were more likely (59% and 56%) to consider it appropriate to consult with CEOs on at least a weekly basis. 

In Australia, 85% of CFOs expressed ambitions to eventually become CEO of their organisation. 

"CFOs now have a bigger seat at the table, and increasingly, we are seeing that they are owning a lot of the organisation’s technology journey,” explained Justus Siage CPA, solutions engineering manager at Sage Australia. 

“They have very specialised skills in financial modelling and return-on-investment (ROI) analysis, compared to other areas of the business."

Additionally, finance leaders voiced interest in playing a larger role in ESG initiatives. Close to three quarters (74%) said they were either “extremely” or “very” responsible for ESG decision-making as CFO.

Leaders between 25 and 34 years old were more likely (13%) to say that enhancing sustainability programs was a top priority for their organization, compared to those aged 35-44 (8%) and those aged 45-54 (9%).
 

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