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The opportunities and expectations of the CFO role during the pandemic

Posted by Neha De

January 14, 2022    |     6-minute read (1160 words)

While the world continues to grapple with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, chief financial officers are suddenly dealing with a vast array of new challenges, from cash flow, declining revenues and employee health, to advising the board and CEO on strategic alternatives. 

With potential tax changes, regulatory policy, workforce concerns and cultural shifts affecting the bottom line, the CFO role has evolved into one of a strategic influencer and problem solver. As their role grows, finance leaders who connect corporate purpose to action can accelerate, improve and sustain business success. The CFO is in the best position to create new avenues for corporate innovation and set the stage for future growth by aligning fiscal and business strategy.

Amid all this uncertainty, the CFO can play an important, central role in stabilizing the business and preparing it for a brighter future when conditions improve. Ultimately, it is the CFO who plays the most direct role in a company's financial health and organizational resilience. 

What 2022 looks like for today’s CFOs

Here are six areas that will likely be high on CFOs’ agendas in 2022, according to PwC’s “The evolving role of the CFO” report. This list offers a base for where CFOs can focus this year.  

#1: The future of work – In 2021, the continuing tight labor market, new working models (remote and hybrid) and changing workforce expectations demanded attention from CFOs. Finance leaders recognized that employees want more purpose in work and therefore collaborated with CHROs to show staff workers they matter. Despite the Great Resignation, CFOs were able to highlight the importance of trust, becoming drivers of culture and purpose, while maintaining a close eye on their growth agenda. 

Going forward, CFOs are both optimistic about growth and focused on people, according to the latest US Pulse Survey. As new hybrid models continue to emerge, collaboration between the CFO and chief human resources officer is essential to implanting workforce strategy into business strategy. To return to growth, CFOs will need to figure out what staff members want and need and then create an employee experience that differentiates their organizations.

#2: Accelerating transformation – CFOs have remained focused on investing in digital transformation throughout the pandemic. In fact, several of them kept digital investments safe from cost cuts, reallocating resources and even accelerating some investments. 

A large number of finance leaders are investing in digital transformation, including in technologies like cloud and analytics, to drive growth. CFOs can help lead the cloud value story along with the CEO by sharing the company's cloud story. They can pinpoint capital commitments, helping drive strategies for long-term growth.

The pandemic also revealed the various issues inherent in linear supply chains. As supply chain issues continue to demand attention alongside continued concerns about competitive wage growth and high turnover, CFOs need to identify that transforming business processes is the clear path to growth for the future.

In 2022, with a growing focus on business process standardization, long-term strategies for using and protecting data call for enhanced digitization. Enterprise digital transformation needs advanced analytics, artificial intelligence applications and cloud technology, the backbone of advanced financial tools. 

As more investment flows into digital currencies, finance leaders may have to plan for the cost of hosting cryptocurrencies. As people functions combine with tech, CFOs need to include mentoring, digital upskilling and apprenticeships in their plans for this year.

On the supply chain front, CFOs need to address and optimize fractured supply chains by transforming linear supply chains into autonomous supply chain ecosystems. Diversifying supply chains, switching to local sources and building up inventory as a backup can help protect against future disruptions. 

#3: Building trust and purpose – Trust became, and continues to be, one of the most important factors in an organization’s ability to grow and compete. And when it comes to who owns trust, two roles lead the pack (in terms of who is either responsible for or accountable for trust): the CEO at 73% and the CFO at 65%, The Complexity of Trust survey revealed.

When it comes to transforming trust into action, business leaders have found themselves at the intersection of purpose and practice. Companywide efforts — especially regarding transparency, assurance, accounting and reporting insights — are now considered to be within the CFO’s expanding domain of accountability. 

Areas including cybersecurity and data privacy need money to provide preemptive action. Hence, CFOs need to carefully ascertain their employees’ and customers’ top priorities and be deliberate in tying their company’s trust strategy to their business strategy to ensure an effective and coordinated approach.

#4: ESG – Environmental, social and governance issues continue to dominate the list of priorities for business leaders. Stakeholders view ESG strategies as a window into future business performance, so companies that emphasize their ESG strategies will be positioned to lead. 

As ESG gains momentum and attention at the C-suite level, finance leaders are focusing their ESG efforts around consistent reporting metrics and frameworks. They realize it is crucial to tell a cohesive and compelling story of their business’ impact, and therefore achieving investor-grade reporting can represent a major step forward.

The need of the hour is for companies to differentiate between the environmental, social and governance components of their ESG plans. To that effect, CFOs need to analyze and carefully consider how each informs the enterprise’s overall strategy, operations and reporting.

ESG reporting and transparency strategies can also help instill workplace trust as well as inform budgetary decisions with accurate data. Diversity and inclusion initiatives continue to gain traction, but social mobility access and pay equity are becoming more important. 

#5: Taxes, risk and regulation – CFOs face a challenging task: anticipating and preparing their businesses for the unexpected, in the face of the ever-changing tax policy, risk and regulatory landscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the speed at which risk events occur and the extent to which they influence regulatory change. This will require CFOs to take a proactive approach to planning for potentially complex scenarios. They need to work with their tax leaders to educate other business leaders, the board and the rest of the company and position their enterprise to respond to new laws and increasing regulations.

Significant tax policy change is once again in the cards, and companies are preparing for these proposed changes. In addition, businesses also need to evaluate the impact of the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

#6: Enabling growth – Last year, CFOs turned their attention to solving issues of constraint, including, navigating strangled supply chains, talent management and digital and finance transformation. 

Merger and acquisition activity also thrived as companies pursue value. While some companies in distress sold businesses to generate capital, others seized the opportunity to reshape their business, focus their portfolio and drive transformation. 

Now, it is time for strategic planning that encompasses partnering across the business with all functions. Forecasting future revenue amid multiple variables calls for accurate data to provide a guide through turbulent times. 

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