The 3 types of CFO you could be, according to a new Sage report

The traditional role of finance leader is evolving to include Chief Facilitative Officers, Chief Fairness Officers, and Chief Future Officers.

Sage’s latest report, The Redefined CFO, taps into insights from 2,000 finance leaders from around the world, identifying three new breeds of CFO coming forward to lead organizations into a technology-powered future.

Some highlights:

  • CFOs say that Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation will be crucial technologies for their organizations to integrate.
  • 81% of finance leaders who identify as Chief Facilitative Officers are responsible for digital transformation.
  • 82% of finance leaders say that their organization encourages them to prioritize people.
  • 37% of Canadian finance leaders say they want to be more involved with discussing diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

There’s a new breed of CFO

The report reveals that organizations need CFOs with non-traditional skills or responsibilities to shape a successful future.

Three new variations of the traditional CFO role are emerging in organizations around the world. These personas are:

  • Chief Facilitative Officers,
  • Chief Fairness Officers, and
  • Chief Future Officers.

While some of the finance leaders interviewed already conform to these classifications, others are working towards them. Read more about each of these new types of CFO.

The Chief Facilitative Officer

Chief Facilitative Officers are responsible for making decisions that matter and getting the job done.

Traditionally, CFOs have been seen as money guardians. But those who have Chief Facilitative traits of the Chief Facilitative Officers are involved in business functions such as HR, operations, sales, and marketing.

Responsibility for technology weighs heavily on this type of CFO.

When it comes to the interview pool, finance leaders with these traits are expected to be accountable for driving digitization, with more CFOs who fit this persona saying they are responsible for digital transformation (81%), strategy and future planning (80%), and IT and Technology purchase decisions (78%) than other CFO personas.

Many Canadian CFOs are currently focused on facilitative duties, with over half (54%) claiming to be most like a Chief Facilitative Officer.

These finance leaders are moving towards roles focused on fairness and the future. Interestingly, appetites for Chief Facilitative Officer roles decline with age, with 53% of interviewees aged 25 to 35 thinking their industry needs more of this kind of CFO, dropping to 40% of leaders in the 35 to 44 age bracket, and down to 22% of CFOs ages 45 to 54.

CFOs who aspire to have Chief Facilitative Officer traits have taken on a bigger role beyond their expected business functions. More than two thirds (69%) have felt their level of responsibility for approving projects outside their business function increase in the past 12 months, likely because of their ability to make effective decisions.

The Chief Fairness Officer

Chief Fairness Officers are empathetic and understand that a business is defined by its people, not its profits.

CFOs within this persona connect math to mood and fact to feelings, helping make their organization a place that nurtures employees.

Currently, less than a quarter (23%) of Canadian CFOs say they are most like a Chief Fairness Officer. But there are signs that this will change: over half (54%) aspire towards this persona and more Canadian finance leaders feel encouraged to focus on people than those in the US or UK.

82% of finance leaders agree or strongly agree that their organization encourages them to prioritize people—more than their counterparts in the US or UK.

Those with Chief Fairness Officer traits seek to improve equity within their organizations. More than a third (37%) of Canadian finance leaders say they would like to be more involved with discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives during strategy or annual planning.

The Chief Future Officer

CFOs who fall under the Chief Future Officer persona are focused on a variety of forward-focused issues within their organization.

These leaders believe the rapid pace of business means companies cannot just react. Instead, they feel that CFOs need to be able to foresee and plan for new technologies, market changes and even world events if the impacts have potential to ripple across their organizations.

Only one in four (23%) of Canadian CFOs say they are most like a Chief Future Officer.

As a result, they have a clear understanding of the areas that might be holding their organizations back. Among these barriers, they highlight the ability to integrate new and emerging technologies, the remote and hybrid work environment, and a lack of diverse talent within their organization.

Those with the Chief Future Officer traits feel more embedded into their organization and executive leadership team than the other personas. They are also more likely than Chief Facilitative Officers and Chief Fairness Officers to say that the current frequency of consultations with executive leaders is appropriate.

If CFOs want to have a seat at the table and receive the recognition they deserve, they may want to work towards the Chief Future Officer persona.

Read related article: The Redefined CFO­—3 key trends to watch out for

Plans to embrace new technologies

Technology and what it can do for an organization is a top priority for modern CFOs. A quarter of Canadian finance leaders interviewed said that integrating emerging technologies is their organization’s top priority beyond increasing sales and revenue

For example, 38% of Canadian finance leaders say their organization has plans to accept cryptocurrency as payment within the next 12 months—with platforms like Sage Intacct in place to support them.

According to the report, leading CFOs understand financial management is entering a new era where a combination of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML) can deliver organizations to the next level.

Research methodology behind The Redefined CFO includes interviews with 1,900 finance leaders (500 from Canada) conducted by Sage 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 1000 people.


Final thoughts

 Roles and their associated responsibilities naturally evolve over time, and the position of CFO is no exception.

Finance leaders have moved from being money managers and keepers of historical records to future-focused strategists and advisors ready to offer guidance and commercial insights when their businesses need them most.

As the world continues to change, it’s up to organizations to show leadership. Technological prowess combined with human ingenuity will allow these new types of CFO to both influence company strategy and build deep resilience.

Watch this space for more articles discussing the Sage Canada report The Redefined CFO.