How CFOs Can Make A Real Impact: A Q&A With SAP's Neil Krefsky

Olivia Berkman

FEI Daily spoke with Neil Krefsky, senior director, Solution Marketing at SAP, on the ways CFOs can stay ahead of the pack.

FEI Daily: SAP recently released the results of a survey with Oxford Economics of 1,500 finance executives to evaluate how finance roles are evolving in the face of the digital economy. What were some of the standout statistics you saw?

Neil Krefsky: The number-one statistic to me that stands out was [that people in] the “leader” class were twice as likely to report an increase in their company’s market share in the last year. When finance is involved and being highly effective, beyond just the traditional, there is a direct correlation with performance and market share. That’s one of the biggest competitive performance indicators that are out there.

The other thing that I thought was interesting was that in the traditional responsibilities, across core accounting and closing, across core GRC, and across core financial planning and analysis, the leaders said they were highly effective. There’s no surprise there. What did stand out to me is that everyone else did not rate themselves very effective in those areas. That is a very candid response. Nobody likes to say, “I’m not doing that well in my core responsibility.”

For example, the overall population of survey respondents basically rated themselves as highly effective only 33% of the time in FP&A. In GRC the whole population only rated themselves as highly effective 40% of the time. Even in the most mature area, core accounting and closing, they only rated themselves highly effective 54% of the time. The leaders were the ones that were on top of their core functions, which really enables them to do some more ambitious things like driving strategy throughout the organization.

FEI Daily: The biggest obstacle to making their company more efficient was the difficulty of updating technology without disrupting daily activities. How can that be improved?

Krefsky: There are a few aspects to it. Some is addressed with technology, some with change management, and some with people. The ones that do it effectively address all three of those. From a technology standpoint, it has to be part of an evaluation, so not just what might be the best technology or the hottest thing out there, but what will accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish where there’s some flexibility, and how to deploy it where it won’t be that disruptive. Leaders make part of their evaluation criteria not just what a certain technology or solution can do, but also how they can get this live within their company. That’s the first thing. Ignoring that in an evaluation already sets you back.

Then there’s certainly a change management aspect that’s nothing new. There have been good deployments and bad deployments for decades now. Companies put a plan in place and look at how effective they are in terms of allocating resources, how they’re going to go through a migration process, and if they have the executive support so that if they reallocate a resource here or there, there won’t be a negative point of view on that reallocation.

I think the newest trend from the people aspect is certainly training and bringing in a fresh level of talent. Having familiarity with millennial-type technology and work styles can really help move the needle faster to get away from “the way we’ve always done things.” I think Excel is the perfect example of that. I’ve seen in a lot of companies what I call “PhDs in Excel” who have almost built a new software and done some amazing things in Excel. However, if that person leaves or gets promoted or moves to a new job, that expertise is gone and it’s not re-trainable.

FEI Daily: How can finance executives use this study to improve their own performance?

Krefsky: 11% of them, a very small population, were clearly leading the pack in terms of how their companies performed, and those 11% all had stated themselves to be highly effective in six areas:

  • Drive strategic growth initiatives
  • Are well equipped to handle regulatory change
  • Improve efficiency with automation
  • Have strong influence beyond the finance function
  • Are very effective at core finance processes
  • Collaborate regularly with other business units

To help boost their own company’s performance, they can see [what leaders are consistently] doing very effectively from their own rankings. They can benchmark themselves to see, “Do I have a gap here in our company? Is this more of an ambition in our company? Are we lagging behind? Are we doing well in these things?” If there are some gaps, then they can put a plan in place to best get there.

FEI Daily: How can executives find the pain points in the business and then prioritize them?

Krefsky: There’s a lot of information out there, a lot of technologies to adopt, and a lot of areas that every finance organization can improve on. It’s not a one-size-fits-all for every company, every industry, every region. The leaders are very effective in identifying where the low-hanging fruit is: Where are the areas that will have the biggest impact if we move forward with this? Where I think a lot of the others could be adopting technology for technology’s sake. It could be the latest buzzword, whether cloud or machine learning or whatever. For some companies, that could be the biggest area of impact. Where are other companies? They may be ignoring certain things like, “Should I be addressing cybersecurity before I go to a cloud strategy?”

What we’ve found is leaders were very good at identifying which areas of improvement would have the biggest impact, and prioritizing and taking those on first, because there are opportunities everywhere with technology and efficiency at companies.

FEI Daily: What is the connection between effective GRC processes and performance?

Krefsky: A few things. One was the effective collaboration between a risk and compliance team with the core finance team. Many companies are already very effective at that. Especially with more and more [need for] compliance, more of a global business landscape where regulations come into play [with determining] how you do business effectively, GRC and the CFO need to be tightly aligned. In fact, we found a high portion of them present to the board together. Certainly that makes a company more effective, and they grow globally. Their ability to navigate the regulatory and compliance aspect: GRC can’t do it without finance, and finance can’t do it without GRC.

The other thing is that, in terms of confidence in a company from the outside looking in, and whether you would invest in that company—not just from the standpoint of its performance potential—depends on its ability to address cybersecurity risks. We found that there may be an underestimation of cybersecurity risk and data breaches over what the real impact could be, especially in certain regions. So leaders definitely have that much higher on their agenda.

For more on the evolving role of the CFO, see New Global Survey: CFOs Feel Growing Impact Of Digital Economy.

This article originally appeared in FEI Daily and is republished by permission.

Olivia Berkman

About Olivia Berkman

Olivia Berkman is the managing editor of FEI Daily, Financial Executives International’s daily newsletter delivering financial, business, and management news, trends, and strategies.