What do CFOs Care About in 2020: Pain points, Challenges, & Trends

Minimizing risk and protecting assets are top-of-mind in what CFOs care about. But today’s chief financial officers face more complex challenges than ever before. Their roles have evolved to include hiring and retaining a strong financial team, managing costs, consolidating data to help the company stay agile and learning about and integrating the newest technologies promising a significant return on investment.

CFOs are now expected to lead a business transformation – using big data and available technologies to guide decisions throughout the company. As the drivers of financial intelligence, CFOs must also lead in change management, leading their organizations forward with analytics-guided decision making, more efficient processes enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI) and data-guided workflows, and adoption of advancements including cloud computing, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT).

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CFO Trends in 2020

While 2020 has certainly been a year filled with unprecedented events, many of the trends observed this year will likely have a long-range impact in the next calendar year -- if not longer. Staying ahead of the curve can put CFOs -- and their businesses -- at a distinct competitive advantage, capable of learning to adapt to a rapidly changing environment with the right tools at-hand.

Increased use of Data Analytics

As a CFO, understanding trends in digital transformation is key to success. Leading the analytics strategy in your organization means you will be responsible for determining which business functions could realize the greatest value, efficiency boost and competitive advantage by integrating analytics into decision making.

In order to do so, you will first need to work with stakeholders throughout the organization to identify decision-making challenges, model the potential advantages of applying an analytics strategy to those challenges, and help the company to select the analytics software that best fits with its operational structure and goals. Then, you must work with others in the organization trained and willing to help you implement and deploy the analytics tools and strategy.

The right analytics tools can help CFOs and strategic teams analyze current and past trends and gather other insights to make informed business decisions in less time than ever before.

Changing Technology

Modern CFOs have a lot on their plate – from guiding critical business strategies to ensuring the correct cybersecurity protocols are in place to protect the financial data linked to each business area. Emerging technologies driven by artificial intelligence can play an important role in helping CFOs more efficiently manage these numerous responsibilities. By leveraging AI to support the automation of routine tasks and the analysis of large data sets, CFOs can spend more time applying insight to value-added business decisions and managing their organizations’ greatest potential for risk and reward.

What CFOs are saying about Emerging Technologies?

The need for CFOs to come to grips with new technologies was identified as a key priority in a Euler Hermes survey, which was initially conducted in February 2020 and was followed up in May 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, 42% of respondents said that understanding new technologies, such as analytics, artificial intelligence and modelling, is an area that should be part of a CFO’s top technical skills. This ranked higher than compliance and risk management, and being commercially savvy – both of which are typically key concerns for the finance function.

When the survey was re-conducted, the figure rose to 49%, demonstrating how important it is to CFOs to understand new technologies compared to their other responsibilities in financial planning and strategic decision-making.

Running in parallel with this, CFOs acknowledged that investment in tech is critical.

  • Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, 22% said that investing in new technologies would be their top area for investment, making it the number-one priority across businesses.
  • Even when the survey was conducted for the second time, that figure stood at 21%, second only to working capital, which, understandably following the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, rose to top priority at 30%.

Data Visualization and Real-Time Analytics

Effective, user-friendly data visualization tools allow CFOs to keep an eye on real-time performance data. Insight from that data drives transparency and accountability throughout the entire organization so challenges and opportunities for investment can be quickly identified. These visualizations allow you to continuously monitor key performance indicators, profitability (and potential profitability), risk, and important patterns or trends, without the need for time-consuming manual processes.

Actionable insights gained from data visualization can help CFOs identify potentially profitable new clients, markets, partnerships, research and other investments, and guide business decisions with the lowest risk potential and highest likelihood of reward.

Top CFO Concerns and Challenges in 2020

Finding and Retaining Talent

Building out an effective financial team is becoming increasingly challenging in the modern business environment. Ideal candidates should have a great deal of experience and expertise in data and analytics on top of sophisticated accounting, auditing and compliance knowledge and skills. As a CFO, you want to assemble a team of people who understand and embrace the latest technology and tools, like artificial intelligence and data visualization, and who have the flexibility to learn and integrate new programs and processes as the need for them arises.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a major concern for every business, as breaches can lead to devastating financial consequences for organizations and their stakeholders. Nearly every exchange of information, communication and technological integration comes with some level of cyber risk, so making investments in robust and reliable data security and privacy are priorities for the CFO.

As the head of the finance team, you need to make sure your entire team understands and engages with protective measures and strategies to guard against phishing, hacking and other external attacks. You also must monitor data security compliance among all employees within the organization. In addition, it’s imperative to stay up to date with compliance laws and regulations to minimize company risks and guide strategies that ensure continued profitability and accountability.

Cost Challenges

Costs regularly exceed revenue for growing businesses, due to the rising cost of wages, salaries and benefits, capital expenditures, regulatory changes and compliance updates, IT and cybersecurity upgrades, as well as external economic uncertainties. CFOs are regularly asked to manage these costs in response to investor pressures and the competitive goals and strategies of business leadership. Cost-control measures to help ensure profitability are a delicate balancing act, as putting off capital investments, recommending layoffs or switching to lower-quality vendors could have negative long-term effects on the business.

Economic Uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainties in nearly every market, adding to the challenges faced by CFOs. Concerns about a global economic recession, altered operations due to lockdowns and social distancing mandates, and changes in consumer behaviors all contribute to a much different business environment. Client bankruptcy and non-payment are real risks that CFOs must find ways to mitigate. Trade credit insurance is one way to do so.

Credit insurance coverage protects businesses from non-payment of commercial debt. It makes sure invoices will be paid and allows companies to reliably manage the commercial and political risks of trade that are beyond their control, ensuring that capital is protected, cash flows are maintained, loan servicing and repayments are enhanced and earnings are secure.

Payment Delays Due to COVID-19

The pre-pandemic world for finance leaders was broadly positive. But that does not suggest that there were no risks or concerns.

Euler Hermes researched what risks were top of mind for finance leaders. Potential risks, ranging from fraud and cyber security, to drops in sales and supply chain issues, were all considered. But the risk that had most impacted businesses over the last year was something different: payment delays.

Payment delays have accelerated to become an even more significant issue in the current climate. When asking finance leaders in May which risks had impacted them over the past two months, 65% mentioned payment delays. While risks around sales volumes saw the largest increase since pre-pandemic results (61% said this had impacted in the past two months, compared to 25% in the year prior to that), payment delays remained the most common area of risk.

Learn How CFOs are Pivoting Strategy in 2020

Learn the top concerns shared by CFOs and other financial leaders when it comes to political, economic and cash flow uncertainties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Risky Business: The CFO Perspective on Trade Challenges offers insights from 250 CFOs and their direct reports, pertaining to their greatest concerns stemming from the COVID-19 crisis and economic uncertainty. In this report, CFOs weigh in on how late payments and default situations disrupted their businesses, and what costs are associated with strict payment terms and a conservative risk posture.

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