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Memo to the CFO: Get in front of digital finance—or get left back


By Kapil Chandra, Frank Plaschke, and Ishaan Seth.



Companies are still in the early stages of applying digital technologies to finance processes in ways that will create more efficiencies, insights, and value over the long term. Here is how the CFO can lead the way.

The digital finance organization remains an emerging concept in many organizations, and CFOs are still at one remove from the center of digital-transformation efforts, even though they own and manage much of the relevant business information that feeds such initiatives. There is a clear mandate for them to take the lead: today’s CEOs and boards say they want CFOs and the finance function to provide real-time, data-enabled decision support. And, in our most recent survey of finance executives, CFOs themselves say they want to spend more time on digital initiatives and the application of digital technologies to finance tasks.

But our research also shows that CFOs still spend less time on digital trends than they do on traditional finance activities. Why? There are few proven business cases of digitization in finance and few best practices to draw from, so CFOs are often content to let colleagues in IT, marketing, or other functions press the issue.

Many CFOs tell us they are unsure where to start; the rapid arrival of innovative technologies plus a general shortage of top technology talent won’t make it any easier. CFOs must begin to experiment, however, or risk falling behind other functional groups in the organization and other companies in the industry whose digital transformations are already under way. They might lose a golden opportunity to help drive the business agenda.

A good start would be for CFOs to work with the CEO, the board, and others on the senior-leadership team to proactively and systematically identify tasks and processes within the finance function that would most benefit from digitization. They can then locate and invest in the technologies and capabilities required to improve these areas.

The digital future: Emerging use cases

Digitization is now a realistic goal for the finance function because of a range of technological advances. These include the widespread availability of business data; teams’ ability to process large sets of data using now-accessible algorithms and analytic methods; and improvements in connectivity tools and platforms, such as sensors and cloud computing.

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