CFOs face work challenges from data, technology

Chief financial officers (CFOS) are finding that the increasing volume of data they must deal with is challenging their ability to give timely, accurate insights.

Many are also struggling to cope with technological changes and more demanding stake-holder expectations, according to a new survey. The poll of 1,000 CFOs across 25 countries, including 40 here, noted that 66 per cent of all respondents cited data as a major impact on the effectiveness of corporate reporting.

Dealing with new technology such as cloud-based systems, data analytics and artificial intelligence was cited the top issue for 35 per cent of respondents in the emerging markets, said Ernst & Young, which did the survey.

"CFOs worldwide are struggling to make the most of the increased volume and speed of data available to them. Many are encumbered by legacy systems that do not allow reporting teams to extract forward-looking insight from large, fast-changing data sets," said Mr Chiang Joon-Arn, EY's managing partner for Asia Pacific financial accounting and advisory services. "The result is an increasing expectation gap between what boards now look for from corporate reporting and what CFOs can deliver."

This was also among the top issues confronting Singapore CFOs. Among the local respondents, 32 per cent cited changing stake-holder expectations of information as the top challenge, and another 30 per cent cited the frequency of reporting requirements as the top challenge.

The job is made harder as many Singapore firms have a presence overseas or are themselves subsidiaries of multinational companies.

Dealing with new technology such as cloud-based systems, data analytics and artificial intelligence was cited the top issue for 35 per cent of respondents in the emerging markets, said Ernst & Young, which did the survey.

In response to a changing reporting landscape, 54 per cent of global CFOs and 55 per cent of the local respondents expect to see an increased use of outsourcing in their line of work. "High operating costs over more routine transactions are driving the outsourcing of high-volume work to lower-cost countries, Mr Chiang said. "The concentration of data prepared in a consistent manner in a centralised location, combined with the use of analytics, presents companies with the opportunity to derive insights and anticipate opportunities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'CFOs face work challenges from data, technology'. Print Edition | Subscribe