Technology literacy is key for candidates aspiring to the CFO seat

Candidates who ultimately land in the CFO seat in the future will represent a new kind of financial head, comfortable with data, technology and cross-disciplinary collaboration in areas outside of finance such as customer satisfaction, according to findings from a proprietary study commissioned by B2B accounts receivable, automation and payments service Billtrust released Thursday.

The study of 500 current CFOs as well as CFO aspirants — those who were looking to land a CFO position as their next or next-to-next job — was conducted by Paradoxes Inc on behalf of Billtrust and found a growing desire among respondents to unlock their organization’s data for greater exploratory views and analysis. Both current and aspiring CFOs cited beliefs that greater access and usage of such data could help to drive forward innovation for their organizations.

This trend could see CFOs taking on greater responsibility when it comes to data utilization, looking beyond the traditional financial and accounting information upon which they have always relied, Steve Pinado, president of Billtrust, said.

“We’ve got all these wonderful sources — we have the potential to have all these wonderful sources of data across the enterprise, but sometimes they’re in pockets,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s no one’s job, all the way across the spectrum [to] bring things together with [the] data science teams…Oftentimes, those teams, they may live in a CFO’s stack or they may live across the organization.”

Eighty-nine percent of study respondents agreed financial leaders would need to understand data movement and utilization inside of their organizations as a “key future measure of success,” the study found.

A CFO’s relationship with technology could inspire greater digital adoption across the whole of the finance team, in fact, Randeep Rathindran, vice president of research in Gartner’s finance practice wrote in an email.

“Many Finance employees see their CFOs talk about technology’s transformative potential, but they also see CFOs displaying little practical knowledge about the applications of these technologies and keeping an arm’s length from their use,” he wrote. “Less than one in three CFOs said they invest significant personal time learning about technologies for autonomous finance and their applications.”

Changing CFO expertise expectations

Displaying the technological literacy that can allow for greater data utilization across the organization could actually be one of the things that tips the scales between different potential CFO candidates, Pinado noted.

“That’s a great benefit — it’s potentially a differentiator for somebody moving into that role, particularly in a company that hasn’t been big at it,” he said. “That could be a way to rise above a field of other candidates, because you bring that to the table.”  

CFO aspirants should take steps to hone skills outside of the financial sphere, therefore. The role of the CFO itself has always been somewhat broad — management of the finance function comprises only about 25% of the role, Rathindran wrote.

“CFO aspirants must first understand that as organizations become more digital, and [Environment, Social and Governance] ESG considerations continue to increase in importance, finance mastery and leadership skills will become the bare minimum qualifications for CFOs going forward,” he wrote. “In the future, organizations will choose a CFO that also has many of the following characteristics — a technology background, digital dexterity (particularly agile ways of working), diverse experience, creativity, and people skills.”

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