Business executives expect revenue to return to or go beyond 2019 levels in 2021-22. But how can CFOs as key stakeholders, drive this post-crisis recovery? What is the role of the chief financial officer in a company? What should be done in 2021 to accelerate the digital enterprise and the digitalisation of the finance function itself?


CFOs are the ones responsible to drive recovery after the crisis but they themselves are experiencing a range of critical issues. Principally, 1) meeting current demands to speed up growth and digital models while restoring the business’ financial health. But also, 2) running the function in the best way possible.


However, despite the setback, CFOs are most positive about the future of finance. In a recent survey by Gartner, for example, 867 CFOs were interviewed in 24 countries with the aim of finding out how they intend to manage the business post-crisis. The results show that all CFOs understood that they will experience a remarkable decline in revenue and will need to adjust spending accordingly. With only 16% stating they would cut or delay spending on their digital transformation to protect margins.


CFOs, then, clearly understand that the pandemic has driven the need to speed up digital transformation programs and most CFOS are firmly committed to spending to overcome prior 2020 losses.


In this article, we will continue to discuss what CFOs think is a priority in 2021/22 and why. Also, we will discuss the role of the chief financial officer in a company and identify the top 10 opportunities CFOs want to capture in 2021/22.


We will argue that CFOs need to accelerate the digital enterprise and the digital finance function to drive post-pandemic recovery.


We believe that only through accelerating the digital transformation can business executives expect revenue to return to or exceed 2019 levels in 2021-2022.


At the end of the article, you will learn what new technologies and techniques they need in their business to drive efficiencies and insights into accelerated business performance.



Top 10 Opportunities for CFOs to Capture in 2021


CFOs are entering a period of remarkable transformation for finance.  New technologies are emerging which can help to drive efficiencies and insights into the performance of the business. Below listed are the top 10 opportunities for CFOs in 2021. These opportunities have been identified by CFOs as key areas of investment to drive growth over the next 2 – 5 years.


Invest In A Digital Enterprise


1. Make sure digital strategies and business outcomes are aligned


CFOs are poised for business model pivots. Not only to new products but also opportunities. In essence, the crisis discovered new customers and sources of demand for all businesses. These “new customers” want access to the business via digital giants. Many customers want free stuff but are also willing to pay for premium. Pivots will take a total mindset shift (not a new segment) as customers now demand multichannel, transparent pricing, easy to use e-commerce and quick delivery.


Therefore, strategic plans are highly likely to highlight business-driven digital initiatives. Many CFOS want to capitalise on mass migration to online and businesses are keen to accelerate growth using digital business initiatives. Some CFOS believe digital technology will lead to significant or total transformation for their business by 2026.


2. Flexible Planning and budgeting 


New planning and budgeting will soon eventuate. 2021 may be the year when traditional budgets go (usually conducted on a yearly basis). CFOs are finding that rigid budgets hinder the business’ ability to pivot and capture new opportunities as they come up. In particular, they find that generally after the budgeting exercise finishes, there is very little flexibility.


The focus of CFOs is now on a new dynamic type of planning and budgeting system. This means, a system shift with the market conditions. And a deeper consideration of contingency budgeting i.e, understanding cost categories for various scenarios. 


Expect 2021 to be the year when CFOs support agile, scenario-based, and iterative planning. Budgets that are created in line with shifting priorities of the business and realigned to support strategies to succeed. 


3. Reevaluate digital business performance management


CFOs need to re-examine how to quantify, fund and oversee digital business performance. Therefore, it is imperative that they encourage a culture where investment management methods balance financial accountability and innovation and champion a test-and-learn mindset.


The increasing diversity of investment projects drives more investments beyond the scope of conventional capital budgeting procedures. As a consequence, new digital business cases will be harder to quantify with the use of return-based measures, potentially dismissing opportunities too early.


4. Fund digital growth and new business models


The most effective and efficient CFOs concentrate on differentiating costs and investments. However, most CFOs make investments their priority which is based on external factors like what the others are doing. 


CFOs’ top priority, then, as they aim for their revenue to return to or go beyond 2019 levels in 2021-22 is to fund new or even existing growth. Also, they have to focus costs on differentiating initiatives.


5. Invest and increase employee performance in a hybrid workplace


CFOs are financing the right investments to improve the performance of the employee in a hybrid workplace. Since some staff work remotely, CFOs are helping the business provide employees with what they need in order to be productive.


The recent crisis proved that efficiency oftentimes comes at the cost of flexibility. At the same time, it’s not possible to build resilience at any cost. Therefore, CFOs’ new role will be to ensure that the proper resources and support go to the right employees.


role of chief financial officer in a company

Read about key category manager skills to drive a retail pricing project


To Hasten the Digital Finance Function


6. Free up capacity by reducing waste and redundancy


RPA (robotic process automation) is increasingly freeing up appropriate employees to concentrate on the most important decision-support aspects of their jobs. Hence, CFOs are expected to free up capacity from finance procedures that are repeatable and transactional. Adding machine learning, RPA is useful for more complicated tasks, like budgeting and forecasting. 


In other words, finance will be reevaluating the benefits of existing RPA programs and making sure that they are aligned to enterprise goals.


7. Invest in finance technology that delivers value


CFOs are increasingly thinking of investing in finance technology that delivers valueMany businesses continue to use difficult finance processes using outdated technology. Therefore, by utilising additional technologies to automate complex finance methods, CFOs can concentrate on recognising new value-adding services, like predicting pricing based on consumer behaviour.


8. Securely utilise data and analytics insights at scale


CFOs are increasingly championing approaches that radically simplify data and analytics experience for finance teams. To date, finance departments globally have been experiencing difficulties in generating insights that business leaders can use to make decisions. Oftentimes, finance teams need to call upon the help of consultants or professional data scientists because they have insufficient technical expertise themselves. The new aim for many CFOs, then, is to give finance teams a completely simplified data and analytics experience to improve output and reduce the need for specialised skills to do complex analysis.


9. Speed up the adoption of the cloud and obtain data analytics tools


Finance will continue to transfer key activities to the cloud. The pandemic has forced finance teams to operate remotely. Now, CFOs must hasten cloud adoption and acquire better data analytics tools. In order to do this, though, CFOs want the right vendors, at the right price, at the right time. As it will take good partnerships to deploy more complex solutions in locations that require enhanced speed. 


10. Make sure to hire, retain and develop finance digital skills


CFOs are beginning to hire, retain and develop specific finance digital skills that meet specific commercial requirements. As a result, digital skills are critical to support a technology-driven, “always-on” and real-time business. In addition, better talent in the right role enables finance teams to quickly course-correct and apply skills immediately to the time of need.


The increasing digital skills gap in finance minimises the function’s capacity to exploit digital technology capabilities successfully.


Discussion: Role of Chief Financial Officer in a Company


A digitised company leverages platforms that evolve continuously as the needs of the business change. Thus, a more agile company enables the business to capitalise on the latest technologies like machine learning. New technologies help the team keep the business moving in the right direction without long delays between upgrades. Or without the disturbance and risk that goes with improvement projects.


The changing tides of technology have modernised the finance functions and the role of the chief financial officer. Now the focus is on improving digitisation to revamp more efficient operations.


Gone are the days when the role of the chief financial officer in a company was just a financial machinist. In the next 5 years, the role of the CFO will transform to a modern-day strategist, embracing technology, data science and championing digital transformations with a view to the future.




  • In this fast-paced business environment, CFOs are making more informed strategic decisions to deliver complex business outcomes. However,  functional strategies and overall enterprise objectives must be aligned.


  • In today’s digital, ever-evolving workforce, CFOs are creating the right teams with the right mix of relevant skills to solve more complex problems faster. An agile, decision-centric and forward-looking finance organisation is now required to support talent.


  • The development of intelligent automation with the support of advances in robotic process automation (RPA) is having a remarkable effect on the role of the chief financial officer in a company. These improvements are decreasing costs, minimising human effort, freeing employees up to accomplish more strategic work.




Successfully overseeing a digital expansion can be a significant indicator that a CFO candidate can lead in these times of digital disruption.


CFOs of the future are keen to invest in finance technology now to deliver sustainable value instead of utilising difficult finance processes using outdated technology.


The new role is a digital strategist and less of an accountant managing budgets and P&L. CFOs are becoming much more involved in activities such as: offering teams access to the right data or information, breaking down data and/or utilising predictive analytics to create better insights. This means that the role of the CFO has clearly changed for the good. They are the new digital officers and business leaders of tomorrow. Which means, CFO wants to adapt quickly to this futuristic mindset and accept new technologies and strategies in order to thrive in the forthcoming digital era. 


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