Money Matters

Canada’s Top Finance Leader Believes ‘Digital First’ Skills Needed for Next Generation of CFOs

In a recent webinar discussion on how the roles of Canadian CFOs are evolving, CPA Canada President and CEO Pamela Steer says that a digital-first approach is essential if CFOs are to be “future focused and future ready.” 

Her views on the evolving roles of CFOs in Canada are backed up by a new report by Sage. It found that: 

  • CFOs recognize that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation will be crucial technologies for organizations to integrate. 
  • CFOs believe non-traditional skills are needed to shape the future of the profession. 
  • CFOs are prioritizing the integration of emerging technologies at their organizations. 

The strategic value of the CFO 

Roles and responsibilities are evolving rapidly, and expectations of CFO are moving beyond traditional capabilities.  

Creative thinking and analytical skills are more important than ever for finance leaders looking to do more with data. In March 2022, Pamela said, CPA Canada issued a new competency map “in which data science, data analytics, data governance, and advanced technologies feature very prominently.” 

Some of Pamela’s CFO colleagues “are either hiring data scientists or retooling the CPAs that they have,” adding new skills and competencies to their resume. 

[Watch the webcast recording] 

Make way for data science  

“Data science is really, really important—those data science kinds of elements that are so valuable for the richness of the data that we’re all seeing in our organizations and enterprises,” she says. 

Here are some key findings from our report that reinforce that point:  

  • 92% of Canadian finance leaders agree that it’s important for CFOs to have the skills they need to drive adoption of new technologies. 
  • 78% of digital Canadian finance leaders say their industry needs a new type of CFO, with non-traditional skills that required to shape a successful future. 
  • 40% of organizations are targeting candidates with deep data and AI expertise. 

Read more insights on The Redefined CFO research report. 

The evolution of CFO roles 

“The CPA profession is still one that is highly valued, highly skilled, and has lots of expertise,” says Pamela.  

“And what we need is not necessarily people who can data enter anymore. That’s all done, thank goodness. But you need someone with the judgment and the insight and the experience that can poke holes in the models, that can identify strategic elements that the output can indicate in new ways forward. So, that’s really truly exciting for me.” 

Automation will set you free 

According to Daniel Oh, VP of Medium at Sage,  the best thing digital technology can do for CFOs is to make room for them to work smarter and more strategically.  

“We talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation—these are all crucial technologies for organizations to integrate,” says Oh.  

“But while there are fears that these technologies will eliminate jobs, the [Sage] report actually reveals that 30 percent of the activities and 60 percent of all occupations could be automated, meaning that most workers will have more time to work on the parts of their roles that can’t be automated.” 

There are tangible positives to this.  “Gone are the days of “these horrible green ledger sheets,” says Pamela.  

“I do the more fun stuff now, which is applying my judgment, my expertise, my experience—and that, I think, is exciting for all the new roles. And I think that offers amazing opportunities.”  

The automation of more tedious tasks is freeing up bandwidth for CFOs to use their creativity in new ways. 

More time to think 

“What it’s done is actually elevate the thinking part of the roles,” says Pamela. 

“It’s elevated the capacity and the capability and has increased opportunities. And we’ve seen more economic growth as a result. And that, to me, is super exciting. I think it’s amazing, actually.” 

The Sage report was based on interviews with 1,900 finance leaders (500 from Canada) conducted in early 2022. These finance leaders work in organizations across a variety of sectors including retail, financial services, healthcare, hospitality, technology, non-profit, and professional services that have annual revenue of at least $5 million and employ less than 1,000 people.  

[Download the report] 

The report paints a picture of a new generation of Canadian CFOs. “These leaders are ready to disrupt the status quo—and embracing new technologies is going to be core to their disruption,” he said. 

“How can they, and the companies they manage, set themselves up for future success?” Oh asked Steer in the webcast. 

“What would be your advice to this new era of CFO?” he added. 

The set up for success 

Steer’s advice is as much about mindset as it is about leveraging your network.  

There are two things you can do, she says, to make digital-first work for you: 

  • Embrace new learning: “You need to get with the times, you need to keep moving ahead, because the world is moving faster every day and you don’t want to be left behind.” 
  • Reach out and call a friend: “I think there is a lot of solidarity and a lot of best practice to be learned among us—I include myself still—[in] the CFO community. Having shared experiences and shared best practices allow us all, in a non-competitive way, to make each other better, and to make our organizations better. That’s good for our organizations and our employee base. That’s good for Canada and Canadian businesses and our economy. And I think that, to me, is the single biggest thing that we can do as CFOs, is just embrace the future and learn every day.” 

Putting Canada first 

The future of the finance profession is exciting.  

“We have a lot to do with respect to thought leadership, sustainability, improving the offerings that we have and the relationships that we have with our provincial counterparts—and how we can do our best for Canada, Canadians, and the economy,” says Pamela. “And I’m delighted—two and a half months in—that I could join the organization at this time.” 

[Watch the webcast recording] 

To learn more about CPA Canada and its services, visit their website at