Survey: CFOs setting more strategy, crunching fewer numbers

Grant Thornton research outlines challenges including risk, technology, mergers and acquisitions.

By ·

A Grant Thornton LLP survey finds that chief financial officers (CFOs) are spending more than a third of their time as strategic advisers, taking on roles well beyond traditional financial management.

The 2017 CFO Survey also finds that 40% of CFOs identify strategic planning as one of their top priorities – only slightly behind more expected activities like increasing cash flow (45%) and reducing costs (41%).

“Modern CFOs must act as both strategists and scorekeepers,” says Srikant Sastry, national managing principal of Advisory Services for Grant Thornton LLP. “But focusing on strategic planning is a paradox; it can reflect either a cost or an opportunity.”

Sastry points to the example of CFOs getting involved with operating metrics – a step beyond the financial metrics they have traditionally used. “Whether this is an efficient use of their time or an imposition depends on the availability of tools such as analytics platforms, and on the CFO’s flexibility to do ‘what-if’ analyses,” he explains.

Sastry stresses that finding the right balance starts with defining key business metrics and then tying these metrics to how they affect or drive bottom-line performance.

Risk is a top priority
Grant Thornton’s survey shows that managing risk is top of mind for CFOs, with two-thirds of respondents reporting that they want to reconcile their risk management strategy with their business strategy. Additionally, 70% expect to increase their use of analytics to measure risk management in the next two years.

“CFOs are clearly losing sleep over risk,” says Brad Preber, national managing partner of Business Risk Services for Grant Thornton. “Slightly less than 60% of CFOs see a strong need to manage risk as it affects operational costs and workforce management, followed by 51% who prioritize managing risk in order to vet growth opportunities, and 49% who prioritize it in order to manage cyber threats.”

Technology posing challenges

The survey also finds that CFOs want to focus on digital transformation initiatives, but cannot do so because they are spending so much money maintaining aging technology. Their three top barriers for future technology growth include managing costs (51%), maintenance of legacy systems (41%) and seamless business integration (40%).

“The simple truth is that CFOs face an uphill battle when it to comes to adopting technologies like cloud computing and advanced analytics,” says Mike Ward, national managing principal of Business Consulting & Technology for Grant Thornton. “And they are feeling a sense of urgency: Nearly half of survey respondents – 46%– believe that their IT platforms lack the ability to operate effectively and require future investment.”

Operations seen as top investment

CFOs are clearly focused on operational improvement, with 70% identifying that item as their biggest area of investment focus, followed by sales and marketing as a distant second at 46%.

The survey further reveals an incongruity around sales and marketing, with only 14% of CFOs at larger companies expecting to invest in this area, while almost half (48%) of their peers at small and mid-sized businesses expect to do the same. “This discrepancy demonstrates the need for smaller organizations to better balance their investments,” says Ward.

Mergers and acquisitions anticipated, but not eagerly

Also of note, the survey finds that almost a quarter (22%) of respondents say their companies are considering merger and acquisition activities in the next 12 months. The number jumps to nearly a third (31%) among middle-market respondents.

But mergers and acquisitions represent an added responsibility for in-house finance departments. CFOs report that the top two challenges to successful merger and acquisition transactions are valuation (53%) and target identification (52%).

“Mergers and acquisitions are especially hard for CFOs of middle-market businesses,” says Jim Peko, national managing principal of Transaction Services for Grant Thornton. “Many acknowledge they need a mergers and acquisitions partner to help get deals done and realize anticipated synergies post acquisition.”

Advisory Services leader Sastry sums it all up this way: “This could be a transformational year for CFOs. There is no shortage of challenges, but optimism is high. Policy changes abound in Washington, D.C., while technology presents significant promises. In short: The role of the CFO is more important than ever.”

A report on the 2017 CFO Survey is available at

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Article Topics

Acquisition · Economy · Finance · Grant Thornton · Technology · · All Topics
Latest Whitepaper
Solving the Labor Shortage Crisis: The Four Benefits of an Automated Warehouse
Not enough warehouse staff? Finding it difficult to keep up with orders during peak periods?
Download Today!
From the March 2018 Modern Materials Handling Issue
Here’s how one of the world’s largest 3PLs is looking to tomorrow’s innovative technologies, including heads-up display and robotics, to transform its operations today.
Conveyors & sortation: Carrying the e-commerce burden
2018 Productivity Achievement Awards
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
Emerging Technologies for Your Distribution Center
Come get an insider's view of the latest technologies for inside your Distribution Center. You'll learn which technologies are being piloted, which are having success and moving from concept to implementation and into production on the maturity scale, and what's coming on the horizon.
Register Today!
NextGen Supply Chain at DHL
Here’s how one of the world’s largest 3PLs is looking to tomorrow’s innovative technologies,...
Trinchero Family Estates: Pallet handling in the vineyard
The second-largest family-owned wine company in the world turns to automated pallet handling and...

System Report: Rocky Brands Sees the Light
Confronting an aging materials handling system and new channels of business with new customer...
Lodge Manufacturing: Distribution Cast in Iron
In a new facility, iPhones and a new WMS allowed cookware manufacturer Lodge to double its business...