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The Future of the CFO: From Number Cruncher to Value Driver

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Future of the CFO

Future of the CFO

Future of the CFO: From Number Cruncher to Value Driver

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In today’s fast-paced business landscape, a company’s chief financial officer (CFO) is more integral to operations than ever. In fact, about 41% of CFOs spend the majority of their time on non-finance related activities, fueling data-driven decisions across the business.

The only problem? Leaders outside of finance still see CFOs contributing the most value in traditional finance areas, such as accounting and controlling.

Today’s infographic from Raconteur explores the expanding scope of CFO responsibilities, as well as the perception gap between CFOs and non-finance leaders when it comes to the former’s primary value-driving activities.

The CFO’s Expanding Role

Traditionally, the CFO was focused on financial reporting and issues such as compliance, accounts, and taxation. However, the scope of a CFO’s duties has increased dramatically in recent years. Thanks to technological advances, CFOs are now able to access massive amounts of data on their organization’s operational and financial performance.

“This puts the finance function at the heart or, arguably, the mind of the business from the outset, with many now being crowned as the ‘stewards’ of the long-term enterprise vision.”

Robin Bryson, Interim CFO at Impero Software

Armed with data, CFOs can help predict headwinds, forecast performance, and make informed decisions across departments. In a global survey, McKinsey asked finance leaders about the breadth of their responsibilities. Of the CFOs who said they spend they a majority of their time on non-finance tasks, here’s where their attention is focused:

Activity% of CFOs Focused on Activity
Strategic leadership46%
Organizational transformation45%
Performance management35%
Capital allocation24%
Big data and analytics20%
Finance capabilities18%
Technology trends5%
Other (e.g. risk management)5%

However, other business leaders remain in the dark about this broader role.

Differing Views

While the CFO’s job description has evolved considerably, outside perceptions of it have not. In a survey of both CFOs and non-finance leaders, there is a clear difference of opinion with regards to where financial leaders create the most value:

Areas in which CFOs have created the most financial value% of CFOs who agree% of others who agree
Performance management39%19%
Strategic leadership39%25%
Traditional finance roles33%47%
Organizational transformation33%21%
Finance capabilities30%15%
Speciality finance roles30%27%
Cost and productivity management26%42%
Support for digital capabilities and advanced analytics15%10%
Mergers and acquisitions (including post-merger integration)14%23%
Capital allocation10%22%
Pricing of products and/or services10%8%
Management of activist investors3%3%

CFOs see their largest contributions in the areas of performance management and strategic leadership, while others still consider the CFO’s value to be derived primarily from traditional finance and cost/productivity management.

How can CFOs demonstrate their increased responsibility to leaders outside of the finance realm?

Closing the Gap

According to McKinsey, CFOs can demonstrate their expanded role in three main ways:

1. Actively head up transformations.

While CFOs are already playing a role in transformations, non-finance leaders are less likely to perceive them as making strategic contributions. CFOs also tend to initiate the most transformations in the finance function alone.

To change perceptions, CFOs can lead enterprise-wide transformations, and communicate their strategic value through activities like high-level goal setting.

2. Lead the charge towards digitization and automation.

Few organizations have initiated the shift in a substantial way, with only ⅓ of finance respondents saying their companies digitized or automated more than 25% of their work in the last year.

However, the payoff is well worth the effort. Among those that have undertaken this level of change, 70% reported modest to substantial returns on investment.

3. Develop talent and capabilities across the organization.

CFOs have begun increasing their value through talent-building, but there is still a significant amount of room for further growth.

For example, CFOs can build capabilities during transformations, teach financial topics to non-finance leaders, and develop top talent across the organization.

Through these various strategies, CFOs can foster collaboration and understanding between departments—and succeed in their broader roles.

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Markets

Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Economic recovery from COVID-19 could come in four shapes—L, U, W, and V. What do they mean, and what do global CEOs see as the most likely?

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The Shape of Economic Recovery, According to CEOs

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Whenever the economy is put through the ringer, levels of optimism and pessimism about its potential recovery can vary greatly. The current state mid-pandemic is no exception.

This graphic first details the various shapes that economic recovery can take, and what they mean. We then dive into which of the four scenarios are perceived the most likely to occur, based on predictions made by CEOs from around the world.

The ABCs of Economic Recovery

Economic recovery comes in four distinct shapes—L, U, W, and V. Here’s what each of these are characterized by, and how long they typically last.

  • L-shape
    This scenario exhibits a sharp decline in the economy, followed by a slow recovery period. It’s often punctuated by persistent unemployment, taking several years to recoup back to previous levels.
  • U-shape
    Also referred to as the “Nike Swoosh” recovery, in this scenario the economy stagnates for a few quarters and up to two years, before experiencing a relatively healthy rise back to its previous peak.
  • W-shape
    This scenario offers a tempting promise of recovery, dips back into a sharp decline, and then finally enters the full recovery period of up to two years. This is also known as a “double-dip recession“, similar to what was seen in the early 1980s.
  • V-shape
    In this best-case scenario, the sharp decline in the economy is quickly and immediately followed by a rapid recovery back to its previous peak in less than a year, bolstered especially by economic measures and strong consumer spending.

Another scenario not covered here is the Z-shape, defined by a boom after pent-up demand. However, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the present pandemic situation, as it’s considered even more optimistic than a V-shaped recovery.

Depending on who you ask, the sentiments about a post-pandemic recovery differ greatly. So which of these potential scenarios are we really dealing with?

How CEOs Think The Economy Could Recover

The think tank The Conference Board surveyed over 600 CEOs worldwide, to uncover how they feel about the likelihood of each recovery shape playing out in the near future.

The average CEO felt that economic recovery will follow a U-shaped trajectory (42%), eventually exhibiting a slow recovery coming out of Q3 of 2020—a moderately optimistic view.

However, geography seems to play a part in these CEO estimates of how rapidly things might revert back to “normal”. Over half of European CEOs (55%) project a U-shaped recovery, which is significantly higher than the global average. This could be because recent COVID-19 hotspots have mostly shifted to other areas outside of the continent, such as the U.S., India, and Brazil.

Here’s how responses vary by region:

RegionL-shapeU-shapeW-shapeV-shape
Global (N=606)32%42%16%11%
U.S. (N=103)26%42%23%9%
Europe (N=110)29%55%12%4%
China (N=122)25%43%11%21%
Japan (N=95)49%26%23%1%
Gulf Region (N=16)57%26%17%-

In the U.S. and Japan, 23% of CEOs expect a second contraction to occur, meaning that economic activity could undergo a W-shape recovery. Both countries have experienced quite the hit, but there are stark differences in their resultant unemployment rates—15% at its peak in the U.S., but a mere 2.6% in Japan.

In China, 21% of CEOs—or one in five—anticipate a quick, V-shaped recovery. This is the most optimistic outlook of any region, and with good reason. Although economic growth contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, China has bounced back to a 3.2% growth rate in the second quarter.

Finally, Gulf Region CEOs feel the most pessimistic about potential economic recovery. In the face of an oil shock, 57% predict the economy will see an L-shaped recovery that could result in depression-style stagnation in years to come.

The Economic Recovery, According to Risk Analysts

At the end of the day, CEO opinions are all over the map on the potential shape of the economic recovery—and this variance likely stems from geography, cultural biases, and of course the status of their own individual countries and industries.

Despite this, portions of all cohorts saw some possibility of an extended and drawn-out recovery. Earlier in the year, risk analysts surveyed by the World Economic Forum had similar thoughts, projecting a prolonged recession as the top risk of the post-COVID fallout.

It remains to be seen whether this will ultimately indeed be the trajectory we’re in store for.

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Misc

Such Great Heights: Where Are the World’s Tallest Buildings?

How much higher and further into the skies can we reach? This infographic looks at the most impressive skyscrapers gracing every continent.

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Such Great Heights: The World’s Tallest Buildings

It seems that humanity is always vying to exceed our past accomplishments, and nowhere is the evidence clearer than in the tallest buildings that make up our cities.

We’ve previously looked at how the architectural feats of humanity have simply grown in magnitude over time, tracing this progress as far back as the Stone Age.

The question now is, how much higher and further into the skies can we reach? This infographic by Alan’s Factory Outlet looks at the glittering urban skyscrapers on every continent. We also examine some interesting facts about each region.

Asia: Growing Ever Upwards

The first name on this list certainly needs no introduction. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Middle East. With just a one minute elevator ride to the Burj Khalifa’s pinnacle, it must seem like even the sky is no longer the limit.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
Burj Khalifa🇦🇪 Dubai, UAE828m / 2,715ft163
Shanghai Tower🇨🇳 Shanghai, China632m / 2,073ft128
Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel🇸🇦 Mecca, Saudi Arabia601m / 1,971ft120
Goldin Finance 117🇨🇳 Tianjin, China597m / 1,958ft128
Ping An Finance Center🇨🇳 Shenzhen, China592m / 1,965ft115

Ping An Finance Center from Shenzhen edges into fifth place on the list, and it’s worth mentioning the speed of change occurring in the city. China’s hi-tech capital will see the completed construction of approximately 51 buildings over 145m (476ft) by the end of 2020.

North America: Concrete Jungle

The One World Trade Center, built to memorialize the loss of the Twin Towers after September 11th, 2001, is also informally called the “Freedom Tower”. It’s exactly 1,776ft high—symbolizing the year the U.S. Declaration of Independence was adopted.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
One World Trade Center🇺🇸 New York City, U.S.541m / 1,776ft104
Central Park Tower🇺🇸 New York City, U.S.472m / 1,550ft98
Willis Tower🇺🇸 Chicago, U.S.442.1m / 1,451ft110
111 West 57th Street🇺🇸 New York City, U.S.435m / 1,428ft82
One Vanderbilt🇺🇸 New York City, U.S.427m / 1,401ft67

While the Central Park Tower has reached its full height, parts of the interior are still undergoing construction. The price of luxury apartments in the complex start at $7 million for a two-bedroom, just in case you had any extra change lying around.

In fact, the illustrious New York City holds four of the top five buildings on the continent. However, a nod also goes to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago, an imposing office building which held the title of world’s tallest building for 25 years, until the Petronas Towers were erected in Kuala Lumpur.

Europe: Russia’s Reign

The top five tallest buildings in Europe can all be found in Russia. What’s more, those from Moscow are all clustered within a single towering business district known as “Moscow-City”.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
Lakhta Center🇷🇺 Saint Petersburg, Russia462.5m / 1,517ft87
Federation Tower: East Tower🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia373.7m / 1,226ft101
OKO: South Tower🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia354.1m / 1,161ft85
Neva Tower 2🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia345m / 1,132ft79
Mercury City Tower🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia338.8m / 1,112ft75

This begs the question—why doesn’t Europe build more skyscrapers? There’s an interesting historical reasoning behind this. As North America’s new age ideals and influence on the world stage grew, European cultural values focused on preserving heritage.

Of course, with globalization, things have changed somewhat, and major financial centers of London, Paris and more boast unique skylines of their own.

Oceania: The Views Down Under

Australia’s buildings unsurprisingly dominate the tallest ones in the region. In the surfer’s paradise, Q1 on the Gold Coast has a twist in its design—literally. Its architecture is loosely based on studies of ribbons moving in the wind, as they wrap around the tower.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
Q1🇦🇺 Gold Coast, Australia323m / 1,058 ft78
Australia 108🇦🇺 Melbourne, Australia316.7m / 1,039 ft100
Eureka Tower🇦🇺 Melbourne, Australia297m / 974.4ft91
Crown Sydney🇦🇺 Sydney, Australia271.3m / 889.1ft75
Aurora Melbourne Central🇦🇺 Melbourne, Australia270.5m / 889.1 ft92

The Eureka Tower has a fascinating story behind it, too. It’s named after the 1854 Victorian gold rush, with elements of the building reflecting this history—from a gold crown to a red stripe for revolutionary bloodshed.

South America: Views From the Top

The tallest buildings in South America are mainly residential, and often found in Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela—but Chile is the one standout exception to this rule.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
Gran Torre Santiago🇨🇱 Santiago, Chile300m / 984ft62
Yachthouse Residence Club Towers 1 and 2🇧🇷 Balneário Camboriú, Brazil281m / 922ft81
Alvear Tower🇦🇷 Buenos Aires, Argentina239m / 784ft54
Infinity Coast🇧🇷 Balneário Camboriú, Brazil235m / 771ft66
Parque Central Complex: East Tower🇻🇪 Caracas, Venezuela225m / 738ft59

Gran Torre Santiago is a retail and office complex, and the largest shopping mall across Latin America. It’s often considered the heart of Chile, and built to hold its ground steadfastly in the earthquake-prone country.

Africa: Budding Buildings

Located in South Africa’s largest city, The Leonardo is the jewel of Johannesburg. The tallest building in Africa was also designed by an architectural team of mostly women.

BuildingCity, CountryHeight# Floors
The Leonardo🇿🇦 Johannesburg, South Africa234m / 768ft55
Carlton Center🇿🇦 Johannesburg, South Africa223m / 732ft50
Britam Tower🇰🇪 Nairobi, Kenya200m / 660ft31
Ponte City Apartments🇿🇦 Johannesburg, South Africa173m / 568ft54
UAP Tower🇰🇪 Nairobi, Kenya163m / 535 ft33

For African nations, these tallest buildings mean much more than just breaking engineering records. In a journal article, it’s posited that skyscrapers can act as a symbol of power and the continent’s drive towards modernity.

Future Superstar Skyscrapers

A few more mammoth buildings are expected to rise up in the next couple years. Saudi Arabia’s 167-floor Jeddah Tower, while currently on hold, could someday take over the first place crown.

Meanwhile, Dubai’s set to outdo itself—and compete directly with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Tower is inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and is proposed to break the 1 kilometer-high (or 0.6 mile) mark not yet achieved by any building.

Who knows what greater heights we could scale this century?

Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.

—Adrienne Clarkson, Former Governor General of Canada

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