Succeeding as CFO in a digital world

How CFOs Can Succeed in the Age of Disruption

The path to CFO and the requirements for success have shifted significantly. KPMG has identified the trends shaping the role and how to outperform.

Continuous change, adaptation, and innovation are the new normal in this age of digital disruption. Traditional business and operating models are being replaced with faster-moving, more fluid structures and strategies. The CFO’s role has never been more dynamic or different.

In order to help aspiring and current CFOs navigate this new paradigm and outperform, KPMG analyzed publicly available information about 175 current and former CFOs from 100 technology and communications companies and identified factors in their backgrounds that were correlated with success.

Here’s what we learned:

Increasingly, the CFO is expected to drive corporate strategy, and to do that effectively, must possess skills and experience beyond the Finance function. The result: the career paths of modern CFOs are anything but linear. More than one third of the CFOs in our sample worked in operational or strategic positions, such as business unit leaders, COOs and strategists, in their three prior roles.

Change is also happening fast. The portion of CFOs with recent operational and strategic experience has jumped by almost 70 percent in one CFO generation. The portion of external hires has jumped by almost 40 percent. In our sample, the number of women in CFO roles has almost doubled.

In addition, we found that both internal and operating experience were correlated with success in the CFO role. However, many other experiences – earning an MBA, working in a strategy role – were not.

That said, every CFO has the opportunity to perform better, and to do that the CFO of the future will need to become:

  • A CEO advisor - anticipating challenges, identifying opportunities and developing strategic plans to help drive the business.
  • A technology investor - making strategic investment bets on what technologies will matter for the company and matching the size of investment to the size of the opportunity.
  • A transformation leader - identifying areas for growth and operational improvements and driving change across the organization.
  • A data and analytics director - putting huge volumes of data to work to provide strategic value.
Succeeding as CFO in a digital world (PDF)
Lessons learned from the CFOs of 100 leading technology and communications companies