For CFOs, the Highest Priority Is Strategy

Protiviti, a subsidiary of Robert Half, is a global consulting firm that helps companies solve problems in finance, technology, operations, governance, risk and internal audit. The following reviews key findings from Protiviti’s 2014 Finance Priorities Survey, which included responses from more than 220 finance professionals – CFOs, vice presidents and directors of finance, controllers, and others in finance roles. The survey report and other resources can be found at

Back in December we shared some high-level findings from our 2014 Finance Priorities Survey. With 2014 now well under way, I’d like to take a fresh look at a few of the top concerns for CFOs in this dynamic business environment.

CFOs are facing increased demands to play strategic roles in the future of their organizations. Our survey report clearly shows that CFOs’ major emphasis is on strategic issues such as planning, data mining, forecasting and navigating the perils of a rapidly shifting business landscape.

Financial Transactions

Here, the top priorities are cash forecasting and the period-end close. Cash is king in a shifting environment of streamlined operations and supply chains, enabling companies to be agile and highly responsive. Planning and managing cash availability allows CFOs not only to deal more effectively with change, but also permits them to play a strategic role in supporting new business initiatives.

The period-end close (and the account reconciliation and consolidation processes it includes) demands efficiency – and more efficiency. CFOs are prioritizing the development of automated processes to replace slow and error-ridden manual processes, thus saving time and money.

Strategic Relationships and Planning

CFOs are working on developing strategic relationships with banks, which impacts cash position and can also help navigate evolving regulations. In addition, these executives are increasing their involvement in strategic planning for the organization, which means an increased focus on key areas such as:

  • Periodic forecasting
  • Budgeting
  • Profitability analysis
  • Performance management
  • Business intelligence
  • Margin management

Big data often facilitates strategic planning. Executive management requires actionable data regarding profitability of product lines and services, as well as data on which customers, customer segments and channels are the most profitable. Big data is increasingly important as CFOs strive to strengthen their organizations’ competitive intelligence capabilities.

Emerging Issues

Organizations increasingly are turning to their CFOs to provide clarity on emerging issues such as healthcare reform’s short- and long-term costs, the cost-benefits of sustainability initiatives, and management of a global workforce, including workforce mobility. Each of these issues brings both benefits and threats, and CFOs are expected to deliver strategic insights into how best to navigate these uncertain shoals.

Leadership and Management Development

The complexity and demanding nature of the finance function’s role in today’s organization leads CFOs to place increasing emphasis on leadership and management development. CFOs are prioritizing mentoring and coaching, performance evaluations, training, and change management to strengthen their teams’ skills. They also are spending more time building relationships with business unit leaders to facilitate better and stronger organizationwide collaboration.

In short, CFOs are under greater pressure than ever to play key roles in the development of organizational strategy and to provide insightful and actionable data that helps other executives to make more informed decisions. The results of our survey indicate that CFOs are indeed rising to this challenge despite the increasing complexity and speed of change in the business environment.

In addition to commentary in our report, we offer key questions for finance executives to consider when addressing these issues. Related blogs can be found at The Protiviti View, which features commentary, insights and points of view on key challenges and risks facing companies today.

I’d be interested in hearing from you: Do our findings mirror the priorities of your own organization’s finance department? Has your finance function needed to make course corrections to its strategy?