Bosses expect more out of CFOs: Study

Much more is being demanded of chief financial officers by their chief executives today, according to a report out yesterday.

Some 60 per cent of the CFOs surveyed said that performance management, business support and strategy setting have become their top three focus areas.

And nearly 40 per cent said their CEOs expect them to shape and set the company's strategy while executing it to deliver returns to shareholders.

The study, commissioned by Deloitte, CPA Australia and Singapore Accountancy Commission, polled more than 120 CFOs of private and publicly listed companies from both government and private sectors in South-east Asia, with revenues spanning from less than US$100 million (S$136 million) to more than US$1 billion.

It found that almost all respondents believe it is important for them and the finance team to be part of the strategic decision-making process, but only 70 per cent believe they are sufficiently or very prepared to successfully execute the strategy of their companies.

CFOs in South-east Asia are still spending more than a quarter of their time in traditional operator and steward roles, it noted.

About 42 per cent of the CFOs surveyed said the finance function is involved in their organisation's strategic decision-making process at the initial stage of the project, while half of the respondents said they are brought into the picture at some point along the way.

But for 7 per cent of the CFOs, the finance team is either brought in at the final stage of the process or only after the decision is made.

Even when the finance function is involved in strategy-setting, nearly half the CFOs said that the lack of effective communication from business units and adequacy of resources may impede their success in executing strategy.

"From our conversations with CFOs from small and medium- sized enterprises in South-east Asia, we have observed that they do not participate as frequently in business strategies as they would like to be, and are kept in the loop only when numbers are involved," said Ms Ng Jiak See, CFO Programme Leader for Deloitte South-east Asia and Singapore.

"Including CFOs in the planning process will ensure that business decisions made are aligned, financially sound and, hence, result in a greater success during execution."

The study noted that the strategy process, however, depends extensively on the context of the company and its business and leadership. The challenge for CFOs is to choose effective ways to engage in the process.

"Securing high-performing talent is also an important factor to the success of a CFO. Having an efficient team with strong finance capabilities can help CFOs free up more time to drive strategic initiatives," said Ms Ng.

"Rapid advances in digital technology will also continue to reshape the role of CFOs... As strategists, CFOs will continually need to reorient themselves to stay ahead and drive their businesses forward."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2017, with the headline 'Bosses expect more out of CFOs: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe