Accenture’s survey of finance professionals points to an evolution in the role of the chief financial officer (CFO) from behind-the-scenes accounting wizard to critical strategic advisor, on par with the CEO. While there are universal elements in this transformation, which I highlighted in my previous post, a drill-down into individual industries and sectors reveals some differences. In this post, I address the digital transformation in banking and how the role of the banking CFO is being reimagined.

Looking forward, not backward in a sometimes hostile environment

The banking industry has a legacy problem on two fronts. First, it continues to suffer from the repercussions of the negative reputation it incurred during the last financial crisis. Second, it’s having a hard time embracing new technologies and letting go of legacy architectures that are holding it back.

Following the financial crisis, the industry has struggled to manage heavy compliance engagement while at the same time make a profit. Agile fintechs, which don’t carry the same reputational burden as traditional banks, are leapfrogging their competitors by creating new operating models and luring away customers. In response, banks have focused on improving customer-facing technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and are becoming more collaborative with third party providers and partners. But they will have to move more aggressively and expansively to keep up with the competition.

How CFOs can help move the needle

In my previous post, I talked about:

  • The more strategic role CFOs are playing as firms seek to automate to stay competitive.
  • How CFOs can be the digital ushers for their organisations.
  • How CFOs’ analytics expertise can help firms become more agile and insightful in driving new business opportunities.

The challenge for CFOs in the banking sector is getting the organisation to embrace automation, become more data-centric, and let go of legacy architecture that hampers big data access and analysis. The good news is, banking CFOs are highly skilled at working with data.

In a sense, the finance function has been strengthened by these challenges. For example, digital data analytics expertise gives the CFO the authority to help move the firm toward digital platforms that enable new business models that can give customers what they want―more control over their money. In fact, 77% of banking CFOs say they are helping to drive a digital transformation within their firm and 74% are using digital technology to create greater efficiency.

How HR can partner with CFOs to move the needle

What’s holding banks back is their late adoption of digital capabilities like cloud and software as a service. Banks have a considerable need for new digital skill sets and employees who embrace technology. CFOs cite employee resistance as a disabling factor (40% say employee resistance to AI is a principal barrier to automated technology adoption).

HR can play a crucial role in partnering with CFOs to pivot the workforce. The need is twofold:

  1. New skill sets, which can be acquired through reskilling or targeted hiring.
  2. A new culture that sees the value in digital technology.

In the search for finance candidates, HR should look beyond a finance degree as the leading criterion and look for technology expertise as well. Data analysis competency will be critical going forward. In terms of cultural change, the goal should be to encourage and increase employee comfort levels in working with robotics and AI. The more employees can view these technologies as adjuncts and assets to their roles rather than replacements for them as individuals, the faster and better the organisation will be at using these technologies to advance organisational goals.

With the CFO viewed as a strategic advisor and digital technology viewed as a way to eliminate routine tasks and free employees for more strategic work, a bank will be well-positioned to excel in the digital age. In my next post, I explain the challenges and opportunities for the reimagined CFO within the insurance sector.

For more information about the reimagined CFO, please see Accenture’s report: From Bottom Line to Front Line

Accenture has also produced an industry-specific report for Banking.

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