What the CEO Cares About, and How the CFO Can Help

We do CEOs care most about? We studied several recent CEO surveys to find the answer. Workday's Robynne Sisco discusses the four priorities that most directly impact the CFO.

What do CEOs care most about? It’s important CFOs know the answer to that question so they can keep moving their businesses forward. At Workday, we wanted to know the answer, so we studied several recent CEO surveys by leading consulting companies and reported the results in this blog post.

Among the CEO priorities identified, here are four that I believe most directly impact the CFO:

Growth. According to KPMG’s Global CEO outlook survey, the majority of CEOs said growth was even more important than achieving cost efficiencies. Driving profitability is a key metric for any organization but in order to do this, you have to be able to make investments that will drive growth. In other words, you have to spend money to make money, but you have to do it wisely. As CFOs we need to evaluate how to balance profitability with growth, and having quality and accessible data plays a significant role in informing those decisions. If CFOs and their teams are armed with good data, they are well-positioned to consult on the financial implications, such as the costs and potential return on investment in a new market.

Taking on Risk. In that same study, one in three CEOs think they are not taking on enough risk as it relates to their growth strategies. CFOs may have a reputation for being fiscally conservative, but they must align with their CEOs and support the view that calculated risk can be a good thing. Business and technologies are changing so fast that if a company doesn’t take on some risk, it will be left behind. As CFOs, we can use data to evaluate what the risks are, what the range of outcomes are likely to be, and from there work with other business leaders to weigh the outcomes and take on intelligent risk.

Managing Regulatory Changes. I wasn’t surprised to see PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO Survey had found that 79 percent of CEOs cited regulation as a top concern. The combination of today’s regulatory environment and inflexible financial systems is definitely top-of-mind for many companies I speak with. And while the world is indeed getting more complex, it’s imperative to stay current on the regulatory environment in the regions where our companies do business. CFOs should take the lead on navigating their companies through regulatory changes and ensuring the business can rapidly address them, which requires flexible financial systems and operations that can adapt to change with relative ease.

I’m seeing more and more instances where CFOs have become increasingly assertive about adopting technologies that support the business and provide meaningful, real-time information.

Leveraging Technology. There is no doubt that technology continues to play a bigger role in how we live and the way we work. In IBM’s Global C-Suite Study, CEOs report that technology is a critical differentiator, with mobile, social, and cloud technologies cited as those having the greatest impact on their enterprises. We all know change can be hard, but as CFOs it’s important we help drive our companies forward by adopting modern systems and technologies. This allows us to break free from legacy systems that slow the pace of growth and don’t provide us with the data we need. We can no longer accept the idea that finance systems designed decades ago are “good enough” for accounting, compliance, and decision-making purposes. I’m seeing more and more instances where CFOs have become increasingly assertive about adopting technologies that support the business and provide meaningful, real-time information. This is a big shift, and makes it an exciting time to be a CFO.

The CFO’s world is continuing to evolve, but what must remain constant is our ability to align with and support the CEO’s top priorities. I found this collective research interesting, and am curious to know what other finance leaders think. Do the issues highlighted by these consulting firms ring true, or are there other issues that are more top-of-mind? We welcome your feedback.

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