Do you like telling stories, but also love numbers? CFO might be your dream job

Businesses have been looking to their finance leaders to steer them through market change and unpredictability with unmatched insight and foresight.
Image: Shutterstock

Excellent written and verbal communications skills. Ability to analyse data. Ability to craft narratives to steer strategic decisions and for stakeholder engagement.

The above shows the requirements listed in position adverts posted online. You’d be forgiven for thinking they are for the roles of corporate affairs officer or marketing exec, but they are actually for the position of chief financial officer (CFO).

Over the past couple of years, and amplified by the impact of heightened uncertainty due to the global pandemic, businesses have been looking to their finance leaders to steer them through market change and unpredictability with unmatched insight and foresight.

A publication from insightsoftware, a financial reporting software company in the US, summarises the changing role of a CFO when it states: It’s the evolution of the CFO into the CDS – Chief Data Storyteller.

Good stories need good data

Jordaan Burger, vice president of finance for Sage Africa, Middle East, and Asia-Pacific, agrees, emphatically stating that financial storytelling should be the most important role that any finance leader plays.

“Historically, the CFO’s responsibility was to provide accurate retrospective reporting aligned to an accounting framework. That role has diminished due to all the tools at our disposal these days,” he says.

“With the overwhelming data that companies and organisations generate these days, it’s really important to focus on analytics and data-driven insights and then to tell that story to move the business forward.”

In a white paper titled The Digital CFO, Sage shows that respondents in its CFO 3.0 research report listed “storytelling and turning data into narratives” among the top seven skills that new CFOs require.

However, from the same set of respondents, 95% indicated that they already struggle with data overload and also don’t know what data to trust. A Brainyard study has shown that CFOs and their teams were already under pressure pre-Covid, with 38% admitting that managing too many responsibilities is their biggest challenge.

Clearly, being able to distil accurate, relevant, and good quality information and then analyse that into real and trustworthy insights requires some support from the software at the CFO’s disposal. Manually trawling through all the data and trying to gain insight will not suffice.

For Burger, this is where appropriate financial systems and software needs to step in.

“Companies have to design their analytics with a customer-centric focus in order to nail down that narrative. Instead of building a dashboard that shows how your cash balance is deteriorating, rather show how many customers you are churning and the reasons why,” he says.

“That tells a story and helps you get to the insight that can lead to action and decision-making.”

He adds that significant emphasis should be placed on addressing the garbage-in-garbage-out challenge – your insights are only going to be as good as the quality of data that was originally put into the system.

“Many companies are now automating their inputs to avoid this problem,” he says. “It is also important to benchmark continuously and get the correct metrics for your specific business. If you take Sage, for example, if we didn’t track customer acquisition costs and lifetime value – critical elements for us to monitor our performance – we would be blinded and unable to make the right decisions.”

Get your head in the cloud(s)

Into this maze of data overload, metrics accuracy and insight step cloud-based financial systems.

Sage’s white paper argues that these systems are taking centre stage because they help finance leaders get the job done.

“Traditional financial systems simply can’t keep up with the increasingly short shelf life of financial data and the growing importance of real-time financial insights,” it reads. “Cloud-based software’s ability to provide finance leaders with actionable insights based on real-time data is crucial to helping them succeed in their new roles as strategic storytellers.”

Burger explains that Sage, a provider of cloud technology such as Sage Intacct, provides solutions that benefit the entire finance team – not just the CFO.

“We’ve automated the data entry, then we automate and systematise the analytics,” he says.

Training the data storytellers

Burger argues that the skill to tell the data-driven insight stories should not only lie with the CFOs. “You need the full finance function to be able to tell that story,” he says.

To achieve this, the team needs to have the digital competencies to appropriately utilise the software at their disposal.

“We are starting to see this focus come through in the formal education system. For example, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants [Saica] released its CA2025 competency framework and it has placed a lot of emphasis on digital competencies,” Burger says.

“For the future, CFOs will have to adopt the mindset where they have to bolster their teams with digitally savvy financial brains and a much greater focus on the insights and the story telling elements.”

Brought to you by Sage.

Moneyweb does not endorse any product or service being advertised in sponsored articles on our platform.


Comments on this article are closed.



Instrument Details  

You do not have any portfolios, please create one here.
You do not have an alert portfolio, please create one here.

Follow us:

Search Articles:
Click a Company: