In a six-page interview with CFO magazine, 'Permanente transformatie is vandaag business-as-usual', CFO Services experts Alexander Van Caeneghem and Filip Ceulemans discuss the CFOs strategic role and some of the major challenges the finance community and businesses, in general, are facing: talent shortage, inflation, digitization, data security, RPA, and transformation. The starting point for the talk was a survey that the TriFinance advisory unit CFO Services conducted amongst the Finance community in collaboration with CFO magazine.
Inflation being the top priority for 8 out of 10 Belgian CFOs, other main concerns are the pandemic and talent shortage, both mentioned by 7 out of 10 CFOs. Data security issues and economic crises complete the top 5 developments perceived as the most problematic for the years to come.
At the time the research was conducted in December 2021, only one in four Belgian CFOs thought a military conflict between East and West was problematic.
The CFO as Chief Value Officer
‘The top 3 of concerns mentioned by Belgian CFOs are very much in line with the macroeconomic evolutions that we have been seeing for some time now,' CFO Services BCB leader Alexander Van Caeneghem says. 'When asked how their organization will tackle rising prices for energy, raw materials, transport, parts…, 6 out of 10 CFOs opt for cost-cutting; 4 out 10 say they will scale down investments and 2 out of 10 say they will postpone new hires.’
‘Rising costs are an acute challenge for Belgian CFOs,’ Alexander says. ‘But there is no easy formula for success. CFOs can take on their role as Chief Value Officers here. Costs should, above all, not be reduced to the detriment of future growth. CFOs must therefore determine exactly what strategic costs are. Zero-based budgeting can be a useful approach here: what should we stop doing? What should we do and optimize?
Cost reduction and recruitment are closely connected. If 7 out of 10 CFOs call talent shortage problematic, it is partly because the talent shortage is to be situated in the tension field that is determined by cost increases. Working on cost reduction can make it more difficult to reach the people you need most.
But that too can be remedied. Process optimization & automation ensures that people can create more value. To offer them more interesting roles and positions, you can remove some of the non-added value work. This way, you can facilitate the growth of people, achieve better results and also boost your employer brand.'
To tackle rising costs, CFOs can take on their role as Chief Value Officers. They should determine what strategic costs are. Zero-based budgeting can be a useful approach.
Alexander Van Caeneghem, BCB leader CFO Services
Continuous transformation as the new paradigm
With the world changing before our eyes, companies do not only face rising costs and talent shortage, they experience general disruption by digital transformation and technological innovation.
‘General disruption forces companies into a state of continuous change and adaptation,’ Alexander Van Caeneghem says. ‘Executives cannot afford to neglect some of these issues, because they are all interconnected. Continuous transformation is the new paradigm for organizations to act.'
‘Digital transformation undeniably influences the demand for specific profiles,’ CFO Services Client Partner Filip Ceulemans adds.
‘The focus is no longer on the traditional execution of finance tasks and functions, but on permanent adaptation to the constantly changing environment. Finance experts need to react quickly. People, processes, and systems must adapt to new trends and technologies.
Though RPA is increasingly emerging as a solution for routine work, Belgian companies are apparently holding back. Only 1 in 5 companies have worked with RPA.
Filip Ceulemans, Client Partner, CFO Services
Co-creation as the preferred model for RPA implementations
Though we know from experience that there is still a lot of room for digitization and automation in Belgian companies, we were nevertheless surprised to find that only 1 in 5 CFOs surveyed had actually worked with RPA,’ Filip says. 'Every day, we notice there is room for both the optimization of processes and their automation. RPA is increasingly emerging as a solution for routine work, but Belgian companies are apparently holding back.
‘The main reason for the lack of robotization is that the CFOs in our survey state that they have too little knowledge of RPA.
‘One in four also claims that RPA requires too much investment in software and people. But that is manifestly incorrect,’ Filip Ceulemans emphasizes.
‘The price of a software robot cannot be compared with the large cost of an ERP package, for example. If digital transformation is a conscious choice, the cost of a software robot is low. For companies that doubt the usefulness of an RPA investment, this component naturally weighs in. The skills issue on the other hand can be accommodated through insourcing. You can start with one consultant, but you can also train and develop employees yourself. Co-creation is often the preferred model.
The CFO as people and change manager
In transformations, the CFO has an essential role as a people and change manager. 'Guiding change is only becoming more important,' says Filip Ceulemans. 'Enabling employees to make the shift to data analysis, you need them to develop their skills. CFOs need to be aware of this if they want to get their team on board.’
Alexander Van Caeneghem confirms this: 'The CFO must actively supervise this. At TriFinance, we have developed a competence framework with which we can map out the required skill, behavior and knowledge components. Through the competence framework, we can determine what one needs to master for a certain role and provide guidance to bridge the gap. This is a very useful instrument for facilitating the digital transition.
‘The guiding role of the CFO then consists of monitoring the impact of change on the skill set of both individuals and the entire team. Assessments can of course help. Not every accountant has the ambition to become a controller. You need to clearly define what team members need in terms of mentoring, coaching, and formal training. That requires active guidance from the CFO, but you can achieve very good results with it.'
Read the complete discussion in CFO magazine.
Read the English version of the discussion: Continuous Transformation - The CFO magazine interview