Research latest: change your culture to unlock your CFO’s full strategic potential


“Where does this organisation need to go, and how are we going to get there?”. As companies grappled with the many challenges of 2020, the business insider they increasingly turned to for answers was the CFO. 

What is expected of finance has changed significantly. New research from MHR Analytics in partnership with Accountancy Age highlights the extent of this change. 

The report, The Road to 2022, An Evolving Finance Function, suggests that over the next 18 months, finance teams will be expected to assume more responsibility and strategic importance than ever before. 

Challenging operating conditions persist. Yet amid all this, finance teams are uniquely placed to unlock new opportunities for their organisations - and to prove their true strategic worth along the way. 

So how can the finance function unlock its full potential? The report points to three areas to focus on: culture, people and technology. In the first of a series of articles, we examine the type of culture shift needed to ensure the finance department becomes a guiding strategic force.

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Finance culture: why are expectations shifting? 

“The days of a traditional bookkeeper have long gone”. 

That’s according to Simon Reynolds, Head of Finance at Gazprom Energy, one of 200 professionals surveyed for the report. 

Of course, areas such as budget setting, expense management, reporting and compliance remain as important as ever. But increasingly, we see that companies expect considerably more from their finance departments. 

Nearly 83 percent of finance executives expect to be encouraged to provide more data insights by April 2022 than they are at present. 

It seems that supplying the numbers is no longer enough. These days, CFOs are expected to be ready to produce the insights behind the figures; to understand the problems the business is facing and to help generate solutions based on those insights. 

So why is this expectation on the increase? 

In large part, it’s down to finance’s special place within the typical corporate structure. As Ian Swanson, CFO at leading wine supplier, Delicato Family Wines puts it: 

The CFO is a somewhat unique role in that you have broad visibility into the whole company, and how it works and is connected across functions and business units…

And this can be contrasted with other core business departments… 

Heads of sales, marketing, production have great understanding of their areas but more limited knowledge of what happens in other areas of the business.”

Visibility goes a long way, and there’s a growing recognition that finance is best placed to join the dots. Got a question relating solely to marketing performance? Ask your CMO. Want to know how marketing performance will impact production, staffing and wider business objectives? Ask your CFO. 

Turning expectations into reality: tips for supporting cultural change

A cultural shift impacting perceptions of the finance department is already well underway. As our research shows, when the c-suite requires insights, finance is increasingly viewed as the natural port-of-call. 

So far, so good. But then comes the big challenge: actually delivering what is expected. To meet those expectations (and to prove your strategic mettle), here are the areas to focus on…

Tip 1: Break down the silos 

The survey responses suggest that when it comes to business-wide knowledge, finance is viewed by other senior execs as a kind of ‘first among equals’. The assumption is that you’ll be able to delve into various core departments, pick out key information and somehow draw it all together to provide them with a joined-up picture. 

Just be aware that this capability doesn’t just happen. In fact, if the data you need to access resides in disparate systems, departmental silos and offline spreadsheets, it is going to be nigh-on impossible. 

Does the finance department have access to ALL relevant data sources necessary to deliver accurate insights? (This may include sources as diverse as general ledger (GL) data, departmental databases, and even data derived from connected Internet of Things (IoT) applications). 

Are you able to integrate and analyse this data from across the organisation?  

If you are going to deliver the type of joined-up strategic insights the business demands, it may be necessary to put both your firm’s data architecture and your analytics toolkit under review.

Tip 2: Create extra bandwidth 

78% of finance professionals say that by 2022, they will have time for ‘meaningful review of data’. 

Some finance departments are already well on the way to creating the type of insight-on-demand culture that businesses increasingly want. They can generate a report covering their desired parameters with just a couple of clicks. Questions are answered quickly; and those answers are accurate, up-to-date and comprehensible. 

Others - especially those still grappling with standalone spreadsheets - are not so well equipped. There is also the question of time. After all, it is very difficult to produce a ‘meaningful review of data’ if you are snowed under with routine tasks, and perhaps still contending with Covid-related staffing shortages and hiring restrictions. 

Which processes are eating up our time - and how could they be handled more efficiently? Just a couple of examples may include a lease accounting solution to get a better handle on IFRS 16 compliance, or a reporting solution specifically designed to streamline your consolidation & close process. 

This type of resource audit followed by a targeted injection of automation could be just what’s needed to free up the bandwidth you need to create a more strategic, insight-driven culture. 

Tip 3: Become a storyteller 

The growing internal desire for insight is the overriding theme of the report. 

But what exactly is an insight? It means different things to different people. It could be a monthly performance report. It may be a side-by-side presentation of predictive forecasts based on various sets of circumstances that may be around the corner. It could be a forensic performance management report, complete with your recommendations for further action. 

Of course, for the CFO, the figures must always be accurate. Cultural change doesn’t alter this. But it does require the ability to tell your ‘data story’ in such a way that it makes sense to a wide range of stakeholders, from departmental heads, right through to shareholders. 

This is where the next generation of analytics tools (IBM Planning Analytics and Microsoft Power BI included) really come into their own. Utilising an often formidable range of visualisation options, you get the ability to create, tailor and tweak exactly the type of report you need in a way that makes most sense to your audience. 

Your future-proofed finance office starts here

For automating time-intensive tasks, bringing together disparate data sources, transforming your reporting capabilities and more, MHR Analytics is committed to helping your finance office evolve in line with where you need it to be.

To make the shift from a transaction-based function to a strategic powerhouse, speak to MHR Analytics today.    

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