Money Matters

The Redefined CFO: Why Canadian Finance Leaders are Seeking Roles Offering Purpose & Meaning

A new breed of Canadian CFO is focussing on purpose and meaning in their work, says Pamela Steer, President & CEO of CPA Canada, as she looks to the future of financial stewardship and the evolving roles of Chief Financial Officers at Canadian businesses and organizations.

Steer’s recent webcast discussion with Sage Canada Country Manager Daniel Oh focused on analyzing the multiple demands placed on financial stewardship professionals in a rapidly evolving world.

Prior to joining CPA Canada in early 2022, Steer was was a Chief Financial and Corporate Strategy Officer at Payments Canada and, before that, served as CFO and Head of Finance and Employer Services for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

In her new role with CPA, Steer is applying her acumen and experience to the demands placed on CFOs in Canada in the post-pandemic space.

New roles for CFOs

A lot has changed over the past three years and the purview of the chief financial officer has morphed—and continues to do so—in many ways. The CFOs of the future, Steer is noticing, look to provide positive impacts in their workplaces and employees as well as on the Canadian economy in general.

The increasingly diverse responsibilities CFOs are expected to shoulder in guiding the success of their organizations are, in a practical sense, redefining the CFO role within many Canadian organizations. More importantly, this evolution of roles is crucial for organizations to remain relevant and viable—and competitive—in the future. 

Looking for value and meaning

Because CFOs have, historically, been given wide-ranging oversight in regard to the tactical and strategic work in organizations, Steers notes that “there is a lot of appreciation among CEOs for the vast amount of work that CFOs do.”

And that success helps explain why the CFO roles are expanding in very specific ways.

“That’s why we always get the tough jobs and why we’re seeing, as you’ve demonstrated in your [Sage] report, that our roles keep enlarging. Because we’re really competent, we’re really dedicated, and we work our butts off. That’s not enough anymore for some people, and they want something that responds more to their values and their personal goals, at the same time as fulfilling their career aspirations.”

[Watch the webcast recording]

War for talent

Steer goes on to say, “We’ve got what we still call ‘the great resignation.’ There is both a war for talent as well as people are re-evaluating what they really want out of their roles, out of their careers. In my opinion people are looking for more values-based, mission-based work that has purpose and meaning to them personally, as well as on a corporate level.”

Steer’s instincts are corroborated a recent survey of 1900 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.

This survey informed The Redefined CFO Report and it identified three breeds of CFO that are emerging to lead businesses and organizations into a technology-powered future.

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

Three new breeds of CFO

The research indicates that CFOs are being called upon to shape the success of their organizations in ways that require them to draw upon non-traditional skills.

The report identities three new personas of the CFO role, which can be identified with the following titles and characteristics:

  • Chief Facilitative Officer
    • Responsible for making decisions and getting the job done
    • Moves beyond the traditional role as “money guardians” and impact such business functions as HR, operations, sales and marketing
    • Embraces responsibility for technological evolution, digitization and information technology.
  • Chief Fairness Officer
    • Understands that a business is defined by its people, not by its profits
    • Helps to nurture employees, connecting math to mood and fact to feelings
    • Seeks to improve equity in their organizations and to be involved in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
  • Chief Future Officer
    • Focusses on a variety of forward-facing issues within their organizations
    • Foresees and plans for new technologies, market changes and world events that might impact across their organizations
    • Identifies barriers to progress and seeks to integrated new and emerging technologies, work environments, and diversity of talent.

“I love the research that you’ve undertaken,” Steer told Oh during the webinar.

“I really like these three personas and the idea of trying to categorize where CFOs may be. I’m not going to call it a continuum, but I think that at different times and different places in an organization’s life cycle and the product cycle, they need to be any one of the three. And so, you can see traits of each in most good CFOs that I’ve seen.”

Being future-focused and future-ready, says Steer, is of paramount importance: “We really need to focus on the future, and things are getting faster in the world all the time.”

The role of Chief Fairness Office particularly resonates with survey respondents. Some key findings:

  • 54% of finance leaders want to be ‘Chief Fairness Officer’ for their organization.
  • 81% of finance leaders say their organization encourages them to prioritize people.
  • 23% of Canadian CFOs are most like the Chief Fairness Officer profile.

Final Thoughts

CFOs are re-examining their own priorities and seeking to work with organizations that offer purpose and meaning, with over half (54%) of CFOs interviewed aspiring to adopt Chief Fairness Officer persona. Possibly the most striking conclusion for The Redefined CFO Report is how rapidly the roles of CFOs are evolving especially among companies that are looking to the future. 

[Watch the webcast recording]