CIPFA conference: CFOs should be the 'seat of wisdom' in an organisation

14 Jul 17

The chief financial officer is not just a number cruncher but should be the “seat of wisdom” in an organisation, the final session of the CIPFA conference was told yesterday.

In a closing discussion on the next generation CFO, Anton Colella, chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, said that, although there had been “apocalyptic predictions” about the future of accountants, in his view, the CFO and the accountant were “here to stay”.

However, he noted that things were changing, with CFOs increasingly moving from back-office to front-office roles.

“We’re going to see more CFOs become CEOs. We should see more CFOs become CEOs.”

Colella added that the financial acumen and professional obligations of CEOs equipped them well to serve as the “chief value officer” of the business.

“They can give a unique perspective, not just from the numbers, but from the whole value of the business,” he told delegates.

“We’re going to become a very data rich society – but we may not always be intelligence rich. So I would argue the CFO of the future will not be substituted by AI because there will be no such wisdom [in AI].

“The CFO is the seat of wisdom in the organisation in relation to the intelligence, the data.”

The session also heard from Joy Thomas, chief executive of CPA Canada, which has 210,000 chartered accountant members working across all sectors of Canada’s economy.

She discussed a revised competency framework that CPA Canada has been developing, which identifies areas where accountants should develop and grow their skills.

One of these is predictive analytics and adaptive strategy. Strategic reviews should no longer be carried out just from the finance perspective but should consider costs and social benefits together, and both long- and short-term impacts.

“This is an area that’s really ripe for opportunities as we move forward,” said Thomas.

Professional scepticism and expert interpretation and thinking about the cultural impact of the organisation, such as on employees’ skills, were also going to more important.

“We know CFOs are good business leaders but can they be good corporate citizens?” Thomas asked, concluding that the answer to that was “Yes”.

The session’s final speaker was Matt Miller, finance director at BAE systems, who reflected on the contributions of millennials.

These young people learn in a completely different ways, he said, and although that brings risks, there was a need to empower those in more junior roles.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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