How CFOs Are Successfully Navigating The New Reality Of Uncertainty And Change

Mark Partin

In every sector across the globe, change is the new normal. And while change always brings new opportunities, it also creates tremendous uncertainty. From volatile political climates to increases in regulation, from the rapid proliferation of new competitors to anticipated labor shortages, every CFO today must be ready to face and manage the unknown.

The normal human response to uncertainty is avoidance or a cautious “wait and see” attitude. Yet in a fast-paced, frenetic business world, where upstarts can disrupt established industries in mere months, “wait and see” is no longer a viable business strategy.

While those who are reluctant to change are clinging to the old (“that’s the way we’ve always done it”), wise and visionary CFOs are already recognizing the need to step up and into finance’s new role as a strategic business partner. Only those who bravely move forward, in spite of the unknown and armed with information, new tools, and a strategic plan, will reap the rewards.

Acknowledging that uncertainty is the new normal is a critical first step for finance. Yet forward-thinking CFOs aren’t just acknowledging uncertainty – or even merely adapting to it. Instead, they’re proactively leveraging what seems like chaos to others into a strategic advantage.

And they’re doing so by engaging in these six key practices:

  1. Using and optimizing new technology
  1. Elevating finance’s role to strategic business partner
  1. Driving the evolution of the accountant
  1. Proactively mitigating cybersecurity threats
  1. Staying ahead of changing regulations
  1. Reducing the cost of the finance function

Using and optimizing new technology

Finance, like the rest of the world, is in the middle of a digital transformation. Yet while marketing, logistics, and sales have made the transition from paper-based systems to automated ones, finance still relies on manual tools, such as spreadsheets, Word docs, and binders, to manage much of the close.

These tools prohibit access to real-time data and stymie the necessary transition to modern accounting. Spreadsheets alone reduce efficiency while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of errors.

For the finance function, managing uncertainty starts with eliminating the use of tools that cause it. For CFOs, this means integrating more smart automation into every process. Engaging RPA – robotic process automation – for repetitive, tedious, manual tasks not only increases efficiency and accuracy but also enables accountants to become less reactive and more visionary.

Elevating finance’s role to strategic business partner

Modern CFOs are transforming the role of finance from a back-office function to a strategic business partner by providing real-time visibility into and analysis of financial assets and resources. Real-time insight, instead of months-old data, enables leadership to pivot quickly to meet customer and stakeholder demands and seize new opportunities before the competition.

Better information isn’t the only driver in this transformation. Leveraging uncertainty into a strategic advantage also requires transforming people and processes.

Automated, streamlined processes free people to focus on strategy creation and predictive and prescriptive analysis – work that enables finance to step into a true partnership role.

Driving the evolution of the accountant

Over the past decade, the finance technology landscape has changed at a dizzying pace, with all indicators pointing to a faster pace of innovation.

Cloud computing has lowered the bar to deploying new apps. RPA is driving efficiency and consistency by applying business rules to eliminate high-volume tasks like reconciliations. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and more recently, deep learning are predicted to have an ever-increasing impact on finance and accounting departments.

These technologies are leading to the development of a robotic accounting department, and forward-thinking CFOs are excited about the opportunity to realize a much higher people ROI.

These CFOs are using the robotic accounting department, not to replace accountants, but to drive their evolution. Instead of staying bogged down by multiple spreadsheets and manual processes, accountants can take on more valuable, interesting, and strategic roles, including:

  • The technical guru, responsible for the care and feeding of RPA systems
  • The RPA standards leader, who provides human guidance around the use of RPA systems
  • The business adviser, responsible for providing analysis and advice based on RPA-generated reporting
  • The fraud detector, who monitors, identifies, and reports on fraud as it happens
  • The compliance expert, responsible for aligning the organization with external regulations
  • The auditor, who – finally freed of aggregating paper documentation – can now focus on the analysis of past and current decisions

Read this white paper to dive deeper into each of these roles, and discover the role you could play in the robotic accounting department of tomorrow.

This article originally appeared on and is republished by permission.

Mark Partin

About Mark Partin

Mark Partin is CFO of BlackLine. He is responsible for ensuring that BlackLine’s finance organization continues to drive growth, capitalizing on the rising demand worldwide for software solutions that generate greater efficiency, financial governance, and risk management across all financial operations. Previously, he served as CFO at global SaaS company Fiberlink Communications, and at (now, helping lead its IPO. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School.