The modern-day CFO: down to business.

Author:Linden, Marc

These are exciting times for chief financial officers and other senior corporate financial executives. Many chief executives are looking to their finance chiefs to help set business strategy, analyze and suggest new business models and support technological innovation--beyond just the accounting and compliance functions. CEOs need a financial perspective for growth, since they remain under enormous pressures to win new markets

and increase revenues, even as recession worries still bubble beneath the surface.

Ask CFOs if the enforcement role is enough today and most will say, "No, we need to be acting more strategically and diving into areas such as acquisitions, distribution and operations." By doing so, CFOs can help their companies better manage risk and grow. The tricky balance is to maintain financial discipline while simultaneously helping the business compete effectively and be agile.

Change can be slow for many CFOs seeking a larger role. Across all types of companies, the CFO and his or her organization spend 61 percent of their time behind "the green visor," managing accounting activities, according to a recent survey of 500 financial executives by CPA firm Armanino McKenna LLP. Only 15 percent of these executives say they can focus on being a business leader, even though 43 percent would prefer that higher-level role.

Opportunities and risks abound for CFOs trying to navigate the growing demands on their jobs. Not making the shift to a more strategic and business-accelerating role could mean the exit door. Conversely, if a CFO neglects the basic and critical financial functions in his or her quest to deliver big-picture value, the health of the business at large is in jeopardy.

To complicate matters, some CEOs don't want an "enlightened" CFO and are happy with someone who will stick to managing the data and reporting the numbers. This traditional view, though, is waning. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was the first major regulation that thrust the CFO front and center in business circles, because it required a deeper understanding of business processes and drivers beyond just the numbers.

When the economy sunk in 2008, many executives and investors saw the value that a sharp CFO could bring, by helping the company remain compliant and being a trusted adviser. The CFO began to emerge as the best person to navigate the market disruptions and provide counsel on how to get through the crisis. This is reflected in the fact that 80...

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