Co-creating the future of finance: A leadership group’s quest

Hosted by Neil Amato

CFOs and other finance leaders "are all on the same quest" to transform finance into more of a value partner, according to Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, executive vice president–Business Engagement and Growth for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

Hood's 2021 conversations with finance leaders led to the formation of the Future of Finance Leadership Advisory Group, which continues to grow in numbers and share knowledge about what it will take to upskill its talent and transform the finance function.

In this podcast episode, Hood shares insights coming from the group's recent virtual meeting and explains the vision for 2025 and beyond.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • An overview of the formation of the Future of Finance Leadership Advisory Group.
  • What CFOs and other finance leaders consider to be their top challenges.
  • Why Hood sometimes refers to CFOs as chief future officers.
  • The top three skills leaders are seeking for finance roles.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:



— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at
Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.

Transcript:

Neil Amato: Hello, this is Neil Amato with the Journal of Accountancy. In December and in early 2022, episodes of this podcast focused on insights from the Future of Finance Summit in Nashville, Tenn. I got to attend that event, meet some of the finance leaders, and learn about their vision for the finance function. On this episode, we'll check in with the creator of that group, and you'll hear the conversation right after this brief sponsor message.

Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. Joining me for this segment is a name that should be familiar to listeners of this podcast. That's Tom Hood with the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the AICPA & CIMA.

Tom's going to talk some about the Future of Finance Leadership Advisory Group that has met recently. Tom, first, tell the listeners about the formation of this group and why the work is important to the profession, you think.

Tom Hood: Neil, this all started shortly after I began my job here at the AICPA. I reached out to CFOs of large corporates who are members or are connected to us in different ways and asked them about what's going on in their world, obviously, with an eye towards what are we going to look like coming out of COVID, as we were beginning to see some good signs.

One by one, they all basically said the same bucket of top issues. They revolved around things like finding and retaining talent, like digital transformation, the need for new skills.

After about five of those calls, I started to ask them, would you all be interested in getting together because they all seem to say, "I really want to know what is going on outside of our organization. We obviously know what we're dealing with, but it'd be great to know what other large corporate CFOs are dealing with."

We got about 40 of them together to say let's start working on the future of finance as a group. We expanded it when we met in Nashville, as when you were there in December, and then this was the follow-up to that. So this is March 31, and we had 85 large corporate CFOs on a virtual conference.

Amato: Wow, so 85 seems more than double from what you said originally, so it's obviously growing. What would you say from that virtual meeting on March 31 are two or three takeaways to you about what was discussed, what the themes were?

Hood: Again, we keep surveying those top issues, and the top issues are staying pretty consistent. Although worth noting, ESG rose up as a big one, so that's like in the top five, and then the rest of them stayed pretty consistent.

A couple of things: First of all, they were all working on some form of transformation and this whole notion of moving from, I like to say, from the CFO to the chief future officer, going from looking backwards to looking forwards, the projections, forecasting, we call it value partnering, is the big theme that came out of this, Neil.

Every one of them had initiatives oriented to that idea, which was cool. The other thing I would say, and I'm going to use a quote that I heard. Paul Ash, who's the chairman of the CIMA Council. At one of their meetings, he said, "What we're fighting, coming through the COVID storm, is that it's the same storm, but we're all in different boats, experiencing it slightly different."

I would say, when you look at this group of CFOs, a couple of the comments that they said that really resonated is they said, "We're all dealing with the same thing. It's really good to hear other people and how they're approaching it so we can all learn and find our way through this fog together."

That's the purpose of this group, as I like to say, it's about co-creating the future of finance and they're all in on doing that, which is just an unbelievable time for us.

Amato: This group is an impressive list of leaders from really an impressive group of companies. But they're not afraid to admit that they don't really have all the answers on some of these talent issues and these other issues. Why do you think that actual admission on its own is important?

Hood: Neil, that quite frankly surprised me in a big way, because even in our very first meetings, they became very brutally honest. This group — you took the original group, and you added probably 30 or 40 more to it — they were in breakouts, and they were all very open with each other.

I think it's because they're all on the same quest, if you will. We're all trying to find the answers to continue to add value in finance and accounting, to continue to transform our organizations and have a positive impact on the world. I think we're united around that common purpose, and I think that makes a big difference.

Amato: You mentioned, obviously, in-person meeting in Nashville. There are plans to meet in person again, and probably virtually again, but in general, what's next for the group? What are the themes or issues it hopes to address as we really look into the middle of 2022 and beyond?

Hood: The group continues, so they're going to take the work from this virtual summit, and then we'll build out an agenda. We'll probably have a midyear meeting, sometime in the summer, more than likely virtual, and then we're going to be meeting, again, on the back of the Digital CPA conference in Austin this year. We're hoping to have a really good in-person attendance there, December 7th through the 9th.

But a couple of things. We're building out, we want to call it, a finance transformation maturity model. We have a small working group that put that together. They used that this time. What we've done, Neil, is, from Nashville, we built out a vision for the future of finance in 2025 and then a bold vision for 2030, with things like touchless commerce, self-service finance — all kinds of [things] clearly empowered by technology, finance in lots of different roles now, ESG as a value partner, for instance, data analytics, and forecasting.

All of that is now being looked at in terms of, now what are the concrete steps people are taking to move their organizations there? That sharing, Neil, in this group, we took all 84 of them in breakouts, and they compared what their core initiatives were. They looked at the finance maturity model.

So we're trying to evolve a series of resources and stories for people to learn from each other. Right now, we think it's all about the collaboration of the group. This is the wisdom of the crowd, and so sharing all that experience. Think about, like you said, the types of organizations that are here with us. We have Aon, Verizon, Yelp, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, just an amazing group of top companies who we're talking to, Stanley, Black & Decker.

John Regan, who's the CFO of the Americas for Swiss Re, told his story. Every time we get together, we have one of these members telling and sharing their story and then having people comment and ask questions, and they're all learning from each other's progression, which is what's really exciting.

Amato: You know what, I wanted to ask you about John Regan's presentation. Is there anything in particular from that that stood out to you?

Hood: So, John has been with our group from the very beginning, and we work with John and the Swiss Re organization on a whole bunch of things. What was great is they had a graphic depiction of their journey, which was actually a picture of a bridge being built.

There were all kinds of stories about what happens if we don't do it. There's people falling off the bridge, the bridge is under construction while they're walking and moving over it, so it's the old, we're building the bridge as we drive over it. I think that really depicts the feeling of transformation. I thought he did an amazing job at that.

He also identified four big things that they were using to drive their transformation. One was talent, and the move to that performance-oriented value partner, infrastructure, and digitization. That was huge. They had to have a good digital-first mindset and infrastructure to support their transformation.

In their case, they're all moving to global IFRS. Then their organizational structure and the changes they had to make there. If you think about talent, technology, and structure, those are three really important pieces of transformation. That was the story that he shared, and they're not done yet. But the point is, he said, "Here's where we are." Lots of good dialogue with the group about that, so it was pretty cool.

Amato: Anything else you'd like to add in closing, Tom?

Hood: I think to reinforce talent is one of the big things on their mind and what they need to do to upskill their talent is probably one of the driving pieces that we're seeing. Clearly, it's all around digital transformation, but for instance, the top three skills: strategic and critical thinking, communication and storytelling, and then data analytics. That says a lot.

If you're going to move into that value partner role, those are the skills for that CFO of the future and the finance and accounting teams under them. I'll leave it there.

Oh, one final thought, go on LinkedIn, look up #futureoffinance, all one word, and follow that, and we'll be putting this podcast and all the others on that hashtag for people to easily get the information as we work through this group, but it's pretty exciting.

Amato: That's great. It's a good hashtag — should be easy to remember, easy to follow. Tom, thanks very much.

Hood: Neil, appreciate it. Thank you.