Chief Financial Officer

Dearborn National Life Insurance Executive on How the CFO Drives Business Innovation

Claire Burke, Vice President of Finance & Compliance Management at Dearborn National Life Insurance, shared her thoughts on the current role of the chief financial officer in global organizations during a keynote presentation at the 2018 Chief Financial Officer Leadership Forum in Chicago on November 28. In her presentation, “The Role of the CFO in Driving Innovation: How to Make an Impact in Your Organization,” Burke offered tips to help CFOs innovate and drive meaningful results across their respective organizations.

Innovation is a priority for organizations around the globe. Now, the CFO can help an organization – regardless of size or industry – bring innovation to the forefront of its workforce.

The CFO is an evolving role. No longer is the CFO expected to solely focus on financial responsibilities. Yet some CFOs struggle to adapt to a constantly changing global marketplace – something that could be problematic for these professionals and their respective organizations.

“The traditional role of the CFO has changed over the past 10 to 15 years,” Burke pointed out. “Historically, the CFO was focused on reporting and explaining the financial results … and the bottom line and protecting shareholder value.”

For today’s CFO, it is paramount to engage with multiple departments day after day. Today’s CFO must possess both soft and hard skills and provide insights to help myriad departments make informed decisions. At the same time, today’s CFO must be proactive and forward-thinking and provide C-suite executives with the resources they need to help an organization stay ahead of its rivals.

“Today’s CFO is involved in all aspects of running the business, as well as understanding the impact of decisions on the entire organization,” Burke indicated. “[The CFO] is exposed cross-functionally in their day-to-day role.”

CFOs must understand the immediate and long-term ramifications of various business initiatives, too. They are data-driven, and as such, must offer financial insights that an organization’s C-suite executives may struggle to obtain elsewhere.

“The CFO provides the acumen of determining which initiatives are going to reap the biggest return and help other senior team members see [these initiatives] through a financial lens,” Burke said.

Although CFOs sometimes believe they are exclusively responsible for financial operations, these professionals have a significant impact on an organization’s culture. If CFOs embrace opportunities to reshape an organization’s culture, they could help an organization achieve unprecedented results.

Financial discipline often is a key tenet of a successful culture. Meanwhile, a CFO can foster financial discipline across all business departments. And once this culture is in place, an organization may be better equipped than ever before to get the most out of its time and resources.

“The CFO has a lot of influence on the culture of an organization,” Burke noted. “[The CFO] can set the tone for financial discipline and how the organization approaches any financial investments.”

CFOs can drive innovation across all departments as well.

If a CFO helps an organization build a culture centered around learning, this organization can provide its employees with a broad array of educational tools and resources. The organization also could help its employees build their skill sets and gain deep insights so they can deliver long-lasting business contributions.

“The CFO has a prime opportunity to drive innovation across the organization,” Burke stated. “The CFO needs to embrace and encourage change and innovation to move the organization forward.”

Innovation can lead employees at any level of an organization to become vital contributors. If a CFO prioritizes innovation, he or she may contribute to the development of a business atmosphere that fosters learning and growth. As employees embrace this culture, they could help an organization discover unique ways to drive continuous innovation and growth.

“The CFO can help create an atmosphere that inspires and encourages employees to be thinking about innovative ideas and thinking about ways to do things better in their day-to-day lives,” Burke said.

Going forward, culture will play a major role in the success of global organizations. If an organization fosters a culture that encourages innovation and learning, it may be well-equipped to engage its employees. This organization also could boost the likelihood of attracting and retaining top talent.

If a CFO promotes innovation and learning in his or her day-to-day activities, this professional could help an organization become an industry leader. This CFO will do everything possible to empower an organization’s employees with the tools, resources and insights they need to succeed. As a result, an organization can build a distinct culture that fosters ongoing improvement.

“If employees feel inspired and encouraged to be innovative, they are going to be continuously solving for ways to make things better … all without being asked or told,” Burke pointed out.

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's 2019 Finance Leadership Forum: the Evolving Role of the CFO in Dallas, TX on Oct 16, 2019

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