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How technology is changing the role of finance

Published: 10 Oct 2018 Reviewed: 06 May 2021 Update History

The work of finance falls into four areas covering compliance and risk management activities, as well as strategic and advisory roles. Digital technologies are impacting the balance of these roles and particularly for finance leaders. In his webinar, Visualising finance transformation in a digital world, Deloitte's Tim Leung offered insights into how CFOs are adapting.

The four roles of finance

ICAEW and Deloitte's eLearning module, Work, clarifies the four roles of finance and how digital technologies may change the balance of these roles in future. Finance functions are expected to play four diverse and challenging roles.

The two traditional roles are that of Steward, preserving the assets of the organisation by minimising risk and getting the books right, and Operator, running a tight finance operation that is efficient and effective.

Meanwhile, it's increasingly important for finance to be Strategists, helping to shape overall strategy and direction, and Catalysts, instilling a financial approach and mindset throughout the organisation to help other parts of the business perform better.

Digital technologies will not ultimately change these roles, however, what will change is how these roles are delivered, by whom, and the structures that enable this. You may have to change the balance of your time across these different roles, potentially shifting to have a strong focus in a particular area.

Traditional roles:

Steward

Objective
To protect and preserve the assets of the organisation.
Focus
A combination of accounting, control, risk management and preserving assets.
Roles
To ensure company compliance with financial reporting and control requirements.

Operator

Objective
To balance capabilities, costs and service levels to fulfill the finance organisation's responsibilities.
Focus
Efficiency and effectiveness of operations including overall risk management of the finance operation.
Roles
To dynamically balance costs and service levels in delivering on the finance organisation's responsibilities.

Newer roles:

Catalyst

Objective
To stimulate behaviours across the organisation to achieve strategic and financial objectives.
Focus
Disciplined execution of strategic choices.
Roles
To gain business alignment to successfully identify, evaluate and execute strategies.

Strategist

Objective
To provide financial leadership in determining strategic business direction and also to align financial strategies.
Focus
Helping to set the future direction of the company to enhance business perfomrance and shareholder value.
Roles
To leverage financial perspective to improve risk awareness, ensure strategic decision making and integrate performance management.

How the CFO role is evolving

In his webinar, Visualising finance transformation in a digital world, part of ICAEW’s 2018 virtual conference on digital disruption, Tim Leung, a Management Consultant at Deloitte, explained the time spent on these different roles would undergo a significant shift in the future. 

According to regular surveys of 290 CFOs by Deloitte, CFOs currently spend 44% of their time carrying out strategist and catalyst roles while 56% focus on steward and operator tasks. 

Leung confirmed revealed that the research also showed that CFOs aim to change their focus on to the more strategic roles. When CFOs are asked what they aspire to do in future, they stated that they hope to increase the amount of time they spend on tasks associated with strategist and catalyst roles by nearly 20%, with a corresponding decline in the time spent on steward or operator roles (see table below).

“While these four faces will still exist in a digital world, the way that their core functions will be delivered is likely to change. The role of the CFO will become more complex, but also more interesting and rewarding. Organisations will look for CFOs to offer innovative solutions for their businesses,” he said.

 

How much time CFOs spent on average carrying out these roles

  Currently Aspire to
Strategist 22% 33%

Catalyst

22% 31% 
Steward 27% 17% 
Operator 29% 19%
Learn more

This content is an extract from: Tim Leung's webinar: "Visualising finance transformation in a digital world" and from ICAEW and Deloitte's eLearning module: "Work".

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