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Breaking tradition: Why the CFO stereotype deserves a refresh

Craig Charlton, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific Operations, Epicor | Feb. 17, 2016
Here’s a look at 6 groups of CFOs, and how their working styles vary the outcomes of their jobs.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Strict, number-crunching and process-driven. These are just some of the phrases that spring to mind when we think about a stereotypical CFO. But in today's fast-paced business world, the CFO working style is in fact varied and fascinating. This is a stereotype that's long overdue a refresh. Let's take a typical scenario as an example.

Imagine a CFO sitting at his desk, squinting at the computer screen as he concentrates on financial performance for one quarter, and cross-references it carefully with planning for the next quarter. Someone comes into his office and says he's found a great new business proposition - an opening in a new market - and he thinks the business will grow rapidly if it invests. The CFO, who's just finalised his planning, looks up from his work to consider the proposition. At this point in the story, the working style of the CFO - stereotypical or not - affects whether the business explores this new opportunity.

To keep a business moving, CFOs are required to provide other members of the C-suite with vital insight at the drop of a hat. Their systems have the potential to facilitate (or hold back) plans, allow (or slow down) the analysis of business data, and arm their peers with the information they need to make the right business decisions (or not). The CFO's working style dramatically affects the speed, flexibility and insight with which the business is able to do this.

Epicor recently commissioned Redshift Research to question around 1,500 financial decision makers from across the globe about how they work. We discovered six groups of financial decision makers[i]: over a quarter of CFOs were classed as politicians (27%), a fifth were revolutionaries (20%), 18 per cent were carers, 17 per cent were conductors and one in ten (9%) were classed as visionaries.

1.       Traditionalists

An additional one in ten (9%) CFOs were categorised as traditionalists. Research shows these CFOs are strong when working within existing agreed systems and processes but can be bureaucratic. They are also the least likely CFOs to acknowledge any need for change - only 14 per cent believe their systems should be updated compared to the average of 32 per cent. It perhaps comes as no surprise then, that in the same research these CFOs were found to be less likely to experience profit growth than their more innovative, less traditional counterparts (56% compared to the average of 64% of their peers). In our scenario, these CFOs would slow down the business's ability to explore the new proposition; sending his colleague out of the door.

 

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