Not all paths to leadership positions are the same. What was once a rigid route to the top finance role – from accounts assistant, to accountant, to controller and treasurer, to Chief Financial Officer (CFO ) – can now be supplemented by roles in other business functions, such as operations and sales, creating an opportunity for those with unconventional backgrounds to step into the position.
But while the opportunity is there, that’s not to say it’s easily achievable. The next 10 to 15 years will see a period of huge technological advancement, as well as political, economic and social upheaval, meaning that CFOs will need a breadth of experience to take on such a challenging role. With this mind, what can future CFOs look to do to create cross-departmental value and prepare them for the role?
Build a broad foundation of finance experience
As the breadth of the role increases, it’s critical that future CFOs can ask the right questions across the organisation; a skill that comes from experience across multiple roles. For example, while merger and acquisition activity creates specific technical finance experience in structuring deals, it also helps develop wider skills in change and project management. Of course, that’s not to say that financial experience isn’t essential; almost half of today’s CFOs have had six or more finance roles during their career, 80% have had a finance role in more than one organisation and almost three-quarters have finance experience in more than one industry.
See strategy and business experience as the new baseline
Over the next decade the business landscape will be reshaped by a combination of market volatility, globalisation and transformational innovation. In this environment, deep business experience will be highly valuable. While 61% of today’s CFOs do not have experience outside of the finance team, future CFOs should seek out greater mobility, building the commercial qualities needed, as well as the internal relationships. It is vital for future CFOs to gain commercial experience and business understanding.
Career plan for data analytics
As business data grows and the multiplicity of information presents new challenges to decision-making, the requests for insights from the finance department will become more frequent and more demanding. Tomorrow’s CFOs need to be technologically adept and understand the role of technology in driving better finance delivery. Being able to effectively analyse data and provide insights into what that data means for the organisation is a crucial skill.
Gain risk experience
From traditional financial risks to emerging online reputational risk or cyber risk, future CFOs will have a significant role to play in balancing the investments that need to be taken against potential risk impacts and plan out the different scenarios.
Get closer to stakeholders
The future finance leader will need to ‘talk the same language’ as key stakeholders across a wide range of traditional finance and non-traditional finance relationships. Aspiring CFOs need to plan for roles that increase their breadth of stakeholder engagement and cultivate strong relationship management and influencing skills.
Learn how to be customer-centric
Gaining experience in roles which provide greater customer understanding will be key in developing a customer-centric culture, which drives innovation, service and, in turn, profits. This is an important milestone on the transition from back office to front office for the finance department. Working closely with colleagues in sales, customer service, customer experience and marketing can provide a broader view of how to satisfy customers and provide the best return on investment.
Be skilled in leadership, communication, strategy and change management
As finance organisations become more diverse, their success is dependent on a strong united leadership vision and an engaged and skilled team. Experience in transformation and change management will become a priority, as will the communication skills to align messages and provide appropriate context on financial and business performance to different stakeholder groups.
Bring cross-cultural, cross-market business and finance experience to the table
The future CFO must be adept at working in the global business environment, leading finance teams which are diverse and virtual across both mature and emerging markets. From managing new reporting requirements to driving financial insights into new markets and new consumer sectors, or indeed raising capital, the finance department of the future must be entirely aligned with the business’s needs.
If you’re eager to progress your career and improve some areas of your knowledge in order to reach for the CFO role, then postgraduate study could be the right path. Designed specifically for ambitious professionals, the University of York has introduced an online Finance, Leadership and Management MSc, meaning you can earn a Masters degree from a world-class Russell Group university without putting your current career on hold. You can access course material and study anytime, anywhere, and on a variety of devices. With six start dates to choose from, you can start your MSc when best suits you. There’s also the option for you to pay in instalments, and you may even be entitled to a UK government-backed postgraduate loan to cover the full cost of the course.