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What's Next For CFOs? Why Their Evolving Role is Critical in Today's Environment The next time you think of a CFO as just a glorified accountant, remember that this is the person who often holds the compass while the rest of the company is busy rowing.

By Dmitry Bagrov Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • The CFO balances structured governance and the flexibility to adapt to individual needs.
  • For the modern CFO, staying abreast of technological innovations isn't just a matter of efficiency - it's about being creative.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

By Dmitry Bagrov, Managing Director, DataArt UK, and Luba Kabrits, CFO, DataArt

If there's one role in the corporate structure that has evolved as dramatically as the world of technology itself, it's that of Chief Financial Officer (CFO). No longer just a numbers person tucked away in a corner office, the modern CFO is the linchpin of an organization's strategy, a bastion of risk management, and the often-overlooked soul of corporate culture.

Managing a large tech company is akin to captaining a massive seagoing vessel. The waters are often uncharted, and the storms are unpredictable. Yet the CFO, clutching the wheel tightly, must navigate with a steadiness that assures the crew — the board, employees and investors. This makes the CFO the unsung hero (or villain, depending on the scenario) in the corporate narrative.

Picture a CFO in a large, multifaceted organization. Here, structure and processes are as necessary as coffee in the morning — maybe even more so. Although it may be a pipe dream to create a homey, almost "kibbutz-like" atmosphere in an ever-expanding empire, human-level interactions still flourish. Order and method are the foundation, but people are the bricks and mortar.

Continuing with our maritime analogy, people are the lifeblood of this massive vessel, infusing it with purpose and direction. Without a crew, a ship is merely a hunk of metal — impressive but empty. In a business landscape where human interaction is invaluable, a 'people-first' philosophy is not just a nicety; it's a necessity.

The CFO emerges as a vital mediator in this ecosystem, balancing structured governance and the flexibility to adapt to individual needs. Far from being a rule-enforcer wielding restrictions, the modern CFO is more of a collaborative partner, driving financial success by fostering relationships and synergy within the organization.

But before you think this is all a rose-tinted corporate utopia, let's take time for a reality check. Remember Enron? CFO Andrew Fastow's financial chicanery led the company to one of the most infamous bankruptcies in history. Conversely, look at the sagacious financial stewardship of Ruth Porat, CFO at Alphabet, Google's parent company. Her risk-averse strategies have been lauded for bolstering the company's already staggering wealth. The takeaway? A CFO's influence can shape a company's destiny, for better or for worse.

Yet, the modern CFO also faces a unique conundrum: the evolving nature of communication. In the early stages of a company's life, the lines of communication are as short as a text message, and often, everyone knows everyone. However, as the company grows, not every Joe in accounting will know what Jane in the C-suite thinks, or vice versa. The CFO, therefore, takes on the role akin to a corporate linguist, ensuring the company's ethos isn't lost in translation as it scales.

Related: Why Mental Health in the Workplace Is a Conversation for the Chief Financial Officer (and Not Just HR)

In a world often reduced to spreadsheets and quarterly reports, the CFO is a translator, transforming numbers into narratives that matter to people. Whether it's demystifying a new investment strategy or clarifying the impact of financial policy changes, the CFO ensures that employees see the relevance of their roles in the bigger financial picture.

Additionally, the world has become a mishmash of cultures, especially in global companies. Adaptability has become the currency here. Want to smoothly transition between American 'can-do' enthusiasm and the British sense of 'proper procedure'? Well, the CFO's the one who's got to figure it out.

Technological advances, particularly automation, have streamlined many of the CFO's responsibilities. A decade ago, a CFO would be swamped with spreadsheets; now, machine learning algorithms can forecast financial trends while the CFO focuses on strategic growth. But don't get carried away. Human insight can't be automated. At least, not yet.

Related: 5 Reasons for a Start-Up to Hire A CFO

In the age of artificial intelligence, cutting-edge tools have substantially lightened the CFO's load, automating tasks from data retrieval to policy drafting and cost analysis. E-learning platforms and document-flow solutions are no longer optional; they're essential tools of the trade. For the modern CFO, staying abreast of technological innovations isn't just a matter of efficiency — it's about carving out space for the creative, human aspects of the job that algorithms can't yet capture.

But let's be real; in the end, it's not all just about being ahead of the game. It's also about being a step ahead of disaster. This isn't about having a sixth sense or a crystal ball but a keen grasp of data, trends, and a fair bit of 'gut feeling.' So, the next time you think of a CFO as just a glorified accountant, remember that this is the person who often holds the compass while the rest of the company is busy rowing. And oh boy, they better know which way is north.

Dmitry Bagrov

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Managing Director of DataArt UK

Dmitry is a Managing Director who established the UK office of DataArt, a fast-growing global consultancy group, and built it to a fully staffed provider of end-to-end solutions with annual revenue of over $50 million.

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