Season 5: Innovating for impact

Innovative thinking for finance leaders, David Barton-Grimley
Part 4 of 4

The changing role of the CFO: your next steps

This shift in the role of the CFO to enabling innovation is evident in recent research studies. For example, according to a survey by Deloitte, 88% of CFOs report that they are increasingly involved in driving strategy and influencing business decisions. And research from Sage shows that 96% of CFO’s see their role changing within the organisation over the next 3 years. CEO thinking mirrors this: a study by PwC found that 80% of CEOs believe that CFOs should play a stronger role in shaping corporate strategy.

In the first three parts of this masterclass, we’ve been focusing on innovation within the organisation and finance’s role within it. Now, in part 4, we’re going to focus on skills needed to address this change. The change in the role of the CFO is not isolated, it comes from a rapidly shifting economic backdrop, coupled with a broader shift in what it means to work. It’s a change very much enabled by technology, and massively accelerated by Generative AI.

How is our work changing?

How we work in general is changing, and finance is a part of this. So much of the administration and back-office functions where most of our work sits is now becoming digitised. For example, digital banks now have far better interfaces and API connections than they did just a few years ago, accounting software now has automations which can match and reconcile transactions with greater efficiency. Order systems, content management systems, stock systems have all improved with modern digital tools. The implications: we should be spending less time on administering systems and more time in analysis.

The methods we’ve been covering in this masterclass are also maturing, and with the agile manifesto introduced over 20 years ago, far more is known about how to make experimentation work well.

All that said, research from Sage suggests that there’s a big gap between CFOs knowing that collecting metrics is important (86%) and actually doing it (45%).

What drives this gap?

Skills and tools

A large part of this “actually doing it” gap, in my view, comes down to knowing how to use the tools we buy properly. And too many hand-offs between teams to compile the data we need in the first place. Historically software needs technical teams to configure but now tools are becoming configurable via either simple low code (for example, integrating APIs to stream data) or no code methods.

I’m a strong advocate that finance practitioners need to master the basics of modern programming, to reduce their dependency on technical teams. At the very least, this will enable you to speak the same language as technical team members. Learning how to connect databases, APIs and other data sources to retrieve, manipulate and store data will all reduce dependencies on other teams to get started with the basics.

Most businesses, small and large, might have a relationship with a cloud provider such as Google Cloud, Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure and all offer fantastic training courses that I’d recommend looking into.

These skills are foundational to help you harness the next generation of software coming up powered by AI, especially Generative AI (think OpenAI and ChatGPT for example). Generative AI will allow you to compile data, run analysis and even run programming jobs on your tools through natural language prompts – and “prompt engineering” is a critical new skill for the future. The better our skill at “talking to AI”, the better the output. Here’s a great introduction to prompt engineering from OpenAI.

Learning the methods behind innovation

Finally, I’m a big advocate for everyone experiencing how agile product development is carried out, even if you’re not directly running the process. There are numerous courses we can all take, the best of which in my view is the Product Owner qualification from

I hope you’ve found my masterclass useful, and best of luck on your journey.