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Bobby Lane: ‘Understanding the changing landscape is critical for CFOs’

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Bobby Lane is a chartered accountant with more than 25 years’ experience in professional practice. As a CFO, he built the first multi-award-winning small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) outsourcing team at accountancy firm Shelley Stock Hutter before the company was acquired by Blick Rothenberg in 2017.

Lane was interviewed on the Sage Advice Podcast, where he talked about how the CFO role is changing and how to stay ahead of the curve.

You can listen to the full interview and below is a transcript covering what he had to say.

How do you see the CFO role evolving in the future?

To answer that, we first have to talk about how dramatically the role has evolved over the last 15 years. It’s no longer just about numbers. The CFO has grown into a business advisory role.

A lot of CFOs become CEOs and take on more of a managerial role. I think the lines have become increasingly blurred between the two positions.

In many ways, the CFO is an air traffic controller for the business – always looking for areas in the company that can run more effectively and efficiently.

I think we’ll see this evolve even further as the average age of business owners is forecast to decrease from 54 to 33 in 10 years.

That wave of business owners will need a different kind of support from their CFO that didn’t exist 15 to 20 years ago.

What are the major drivers in this evolution?

Technology has played a big part. I’ve always seen technology as a business enabler because it replaces some of the functions that CFOs were doing.

A lot of the routine processing that take time and resources are now automated.

So, this technology has meant more time in the day for CFOs to strategise and find ways to make their role more valuable for the business.

Where should current and aspiring CFOs focus their skill development?

I think understanding the changing business landscape is critical.

Technology is a significant tool in doing this and spotting the opportunities within the change.

When I first came into the accounting profession, I had basic ledger books, and we used calculators. Then we moved up to accounting systems that have evolved over the years.

Now, we use cloud-based platforms and open APIs to help us to adapt to the landscape even further.

Technology that once cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to implement are now possible for smaller businesses, so it’s crucial to stay current with what’s available.

Focus on researching what’s going on in the marketplace and the available technology and training to help drive forward.

How do you factor in the role of artificial intelligence automation and machine learning for future CEOs?

Some see it as a threat to their roles, but there’s reason to embrace these technologies because of the opportunities they create.

Automated processes and machine learning can help provide better information for CFOs to make better decisions.

They’re going to be able to make more progress with new data resources than they did when gut instinct was the only resource.

Other than the digital technology explosion, what are the other factors impacting today’s CFO?

I think building internal teams will be crucial.

Some statistics estimate 75% of the workforce will be millennials under the age of 40. Most of them will have had more than four jobs by the time they’re 32.

I think the challenge is going to be bringing people in with the skill set for a sustainable team and motivating them to stay with the company.

How can we keep people in these roles for more than 26 months if the average millennial switches jobs more often than that?

Businesses will always need a team to support the areas where machines and technology can’t deliver, so focus on building a sustainable team.

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