Chief financial officers are now expected to play a greater role: Study

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

SINGAPORE - Much more is being demanded of chief financial officers (CFOs) by their chief executives (CEOs) today, according to a report out on Wednesday (Aug 23).

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

Nearly 40 per cent of those polled said their CEOs expect them to shape and set the company's strategy, while executing it to deliver returns to shareholders.

"CFOs play a critical role in the stewardship of their organisations' finances. Our latest CFO survey revealed findings that are consistent with our observations of the sentiments in the finance industry," said Ms Ng Jiak See, CFO Programme Leader for Deloitte South-east Asia and Singapore.

Deloitte commissioned the study along with CPA Australia and Singapore Accountancy Commission, which polled more than 120 CFOs of private and publicly listed companies from both government and private sectors, with revenues spanning from less than US$100 million (S$136.27 million) to more than US$1 billion.

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

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

About 42 per cent of the CFOs surveyed said that 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 indicated 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 to medium-sized enterprises in South-east Asia, we have observed that CFOs 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. 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," said Ms Ng.

The strategy process, however, depends extensively on the context of the company and its business and leadership, said the study. 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.

"As we progress towards the future of finance, rapid advances in digital technology will also continue to reshape the role of CFOs, alter our economy and create new market opportunities for organisations. As strategists, CFOs will continually need to reorient themselves to stay ahead and drive their businesses forward."

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg