Accounting & Auditing | Business and Industry

What keeps CFOs up at night?

tom-kimberly-and-lisa-swearing-in-2016-400-pixelsI recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of 100 senior executives – CEOs, CFOs and controllers — at a special professional issues update convened by the MACPA at M&T Bank Stadium, immediately preceding our swearing-in ceremony for new CPAs. Highlighted below are some key points from that presentation.

What’s keeping CFOs up at night? Consistent with feedback we hear from business and industry members at our town hall meetings, Deloitte’s CFO Insights survey identified these factors keeping CFOs up at night:

  • The U.S. election and economic uncertainty
  • Executing growth plans
  • Business model changes
  • Elevating your role
  • Building finance talent pipeline
  • Harnessing technology
  • Cybersecurity risks
  • Capital allocation
  • Activist shareholders

The overwhelmed employee Employees report feeling overwhelmed, with 49 percent working 50 or more hours per week and 20 percent working 60 or more hours per week. This does not leave much time for professional development or meeting many of the needs listed above.

However, failing to devote time and resources to professional development – in soft skills like leadership and strategic planning, as well as technical finance and accounting skills — can hurt CFOs’ chances of succeeding and leading, as shown in study after study by HR firms like Robert Half.

In fact, in a 2014 study by, 92 percent of CPAs reported they do not feel "future-ready" – in other words, they don't feel ready to anticipate emerging trends in business, demographics and the social environment. We (along with leading futurist Daniel Burrus) call this important skill "anticipation." And as Burrus will tell you, the skill of being anticipatory is something you can cultivate within yourself and learn. Together with the Business Learning Institute, we offer a program called The Anticipatory Organization: Accounting and Finance Edition, which you can use as a self-study program on your own or, even better, with others from your firm or organization.

Hard trends CEOs, CFOs and controllers are struggling to define, capture, and deal with hard trends in a proactive way. These trends, as identified by Burrus, are in some cases moving at the speed of light – or exponentially. They include:

  • Technology, in particular, digitization, information storage and computing power, and the cloud
  • Demographics
  • Government regulation

According to an Oxford University study, the odds that tax preparation will be completely automated within 20 years are 98.7 percent; for accounting and auditing, the odds of automation are 93.5 percent. In fact, seventy-two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs surveyed in a 2015 Oracle study say the rapid pace of technology innovation is their biggest challenge.

Top CFO priorities Technology presents opportunities as well as threats. CFOs surveyed by Gartner are looking to achieve the following priorities:

  • Reduce enterprise operating costs
  • Create a collaborative environment
  • Create an enterprise view of business
  • Monitor of business performance
  • Quality of data used for business decisions
  • Facilitating analysis and decision making

Staying ahead of the competition is always on the minds of CEOs and CFOs, and in our world of exponential change, we have seen entire industries disrupted. As Burrus says, “If it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will.” Or, as Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph says, “You have to disrupt yourself before someone disrupts you.” That’s why we at the MACPA and BLI believe so strongly in helping train accounting and finance and other executives in becoming anticipatory.

Cloud strategy: The digital imperative Across the board, we have seen accounting, finance, audit and tax functions move to the cloud. By moving accounting and finance functions to the cloud, they are readily accessible when and where your staff need them, and in the way they want to access them, which is frequently via mobile devices.

CPAs in business and industry and audit firms are deriving benefits from moving to the cloud:

  • It maximizes your software and tools.
  • It helps you use the latest, most efficient technologies.
  • It improves workflow and process efficiency.
  • It helps engage your people.

In fact, according to a study published in 2015 by Harvard Business Review, 64 percent of business leaders say the cloud has increased their organization’s agility. And as reported by Oracle, buying triggers offered by shifting to the cloud include the ability to increase operating efficiency, fuel growth, and enhance operations through digital models.

Skills gap pressures CFOs Neither can we ignore the importance of continually building the intelligence and capacity of our workforce. As futurist Mike Walsh says, “If you automate, you must elevate (the skills of your team)."

EY's 2016 "DNA of the CFO" survey sheds light on the pressures CFOs are facing:

  • Fifty-two percent report difficulty delegating, as their team lacks necessary skills.
  • Fifty-one percent report that their operational responsibilities take up tremendous time and mindshare.
  • Forty-seven percent report their finance function does not have the right mix of capabilities to meet the demands of future strategic priorities.
  • Fifty-six percent cannot focus on strategic priorities because of time spent on compliance, controls and costs.

The need to shore up skillsets up and down the finance pipeline is even more evident by the fact that CEOs are looking more to their CFOs for business support, with 63 percent of CEOs surveyed by KPMG in 2015 stating the CFO's role will increase in significance over the next three years.  But the KPMG survey also notes that one in three CEOs do not believe their CFOs are ready for the challenges ahead.

How can CFOs close the competency gap for themselves and their teams?

  • Check out the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) program at
  • Check out training in strategic planning, leadership, and more at
  • Check out The Anticipatory Organization: Accounting and Finance Edition at Reach out to me, or message our membership team via the chat function on our website, if your firm is interested in having a free demo to learn more about this training program.

Learn more by attending an upcoming professional issues update. Upcoming dates can be found at


Tom Hood