The responsibilities of CFOs continue to evolve. Pre-pandemic, the finance function had already evolved into the role of a strategic, forward-looking business partner and during the pandemic, CEOs relied heavily on CFOs to weather the storm and minimize financial fallout. Today, the great resignation is threatening the finance function in many organizations.
For this article, Barbara Palmegiani, CFO Services Leader at BDO Canada, sat down with Armand Capsiciolto, National Accounting Standards Partner at BDO Canada, to discuss the changing role of the CFO, the risks of high turnover, and how can you minimize those risks.
The great resignation and the finance function
By now, you've likely heard the term the ‘great resignation', it's an ongoing economic trend in which employees are quitting at historic rates around the world. Catalyzed by the pandemic, people are reconsidering where and how they want to work for reasons ranging from burnout to poor work-life balance to toxic culture to an unpredictable virus.
Although high turnover rates and labour shortages are creating risks for all sectors, it's having a particular impact on the finance function. Turnover in the CFO role or other senior finance roles can disrupt audit cycles, audit quality, financial reporting, and governance requirements—all posing serious risks for an organization.
The role of the modern CFO
Even prior to the pandemic, the role of the CFO had already changed dramatically, and it will continue to do so.
In the past, finance was mainly tasked with recording and reporting historical financial information in accordance with fiduciary responsibilities to stakeholders. Today, the CFO role has evolved to include strategic business partner, with the expectation that they challenge and influence business practices. In the future, finance will be more focused on collecting big data and using predictive analytics to create forward-looking financial information.
In addition to her role at BDO Canada, Barbara is passionate about helping CPAs develop their leadership abilities, human centric skills, and core values to prepare for this future. “I encourage all CPAs to take charge and upskill, reskill, and develop a personalized plan for their future,” Barbara shared. “We need to see technology as a partner or collaborator and be actively aware of how tech is impacting our profession. The status quo is no longer an option if we want to be ready to work in tomorrow's finance function.”
“Take on that project or that role that's going to enhance and broaden your skillset. Taking this extra step will only add to your toolbox and help ensure a sustainable career as a financial leader in the future,” she added.
How has the finance function been impacted?
Hybrid and remote work:
Priorities have shifted and CFOs can no longer expect to work the same way they did pre-pandemic. CFOs need to be prepared to manage remote and hybrid teams. They need to learn how to communicate effectively with people who may not be in the same office and build relationships with people who don't have decades of experience under their belts.
“People want autonomy, and they want to continue to work remotely, but they also want more connectedness,” said Barbara. “Leaders need to think about how and when they interact with their team. It can't only be transactional. Empathetic leaders who work on building relationships and creating open communication with their teams will thrive in this new way of working,” she added.
In addition, many CFOs themselves are anxious about going back into the office. As a leader, they need to comply with the company policy. But they are feeling the same things their staff are feeling.
The CFO role is often a lonely one, requiring CPAs to handle a great deal of responsibility and pressure. In recent years, particularly during the pandemic, many CFOs played an important financial leadership role, putting them under even more pressure than normal.
Many CFOs helped their companies survive or in other cases helped them thrive because the business benefitted from the pandemic. In both scenarios, finance leaders have been in the spotlight.
To manage burnout as the role becomes increasingly demanding, Barbara recommends CFOs get together regularly to network and share their successes and challenges. “Being part of a like-minded community helps you keep things in perspective and feel less isolated.”
What are the risks of resignations and turnover in the CFO role?
“The risks are high,” said Barbara. “The CFO sets the tone for how a company manages its finances and helps ensure the business has a strong foundation for growth. If a CFO leaves, it can take months to find an experienced replacement. In addition, turnover in the department can result in lost productivity due to training new staff on procedures.”
Here are some of the main risks for organizations to consider:
- Vacant roles - Create added pressure on remaining employees to pick up the slack. Adding to burnout and dissatisfaction with their work, motivating even more staff to leave.
- Exhaustion and burnout - Lead to employees cutting corners with internal controls. Or, worse, rationalizing defrauding their employer for the added stress.
- Expediting the hiring process – To get the candidate onboarded as quickly as possible, hiring teams are not doing proper due diligence and they are sacrificing security and quality for speed.
- Disrupting financials - An organization's internal controls could be compromised and its ability to produce reliable financial statements undermined.
Read more about how the great resignation and labour shortages are increasing business risk.
How can businesses manage these risks?
1. Improve corporate culture:
A toxic work culture can include disrespect, unethical behaviour, failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion—and will drive your employees out the door.
It's imperative to create a culture of integrity, where employees can report fraud and misconduct without fear of retaliation. Employees want a culture that values them and their contribution, invests in their professional development, and supports work-life balance. This positive work environment will attract and retain top talent, increase employee engagement, and boost your bottom line
2. Enlist CFO and controllership services:
BDO provides CFO and controller services and solutions in a timely manner. It's our job to place competent interim CFOs and controllers and other financial project leaders who are the right fit for your organization and who can hit the ground running. They can provide a positive impact in short order.
BDO also provides services for CFOs. Given the breath of responsibilities for today's CFO, it's no longer possible for them to possess all the answers to every problem. BDO can support CFOs by bringing them the right experts at the right time, in a cost-effective way.
How BDO can help
BDO can provide your finance function with the support it needs and augment your team with fractional finance leadership when necessary. We also work closely with CFOs to support their teams to become more agile in today's volatile business environment.