Blog Insight

CFO: Executive Headache or Strategic Ally?

Unpacking the Role of the Modern Chief Financial Officer

What images do you conjure up when thinking about a chief financial officer? A stern bean counter who questions budget line items, or a risk-averse cost cutter who is dubious about innovative business growth strategies?

Sure, today’s CFOs know their numbers. But they also know how to advocate for business transformation initiatives.

Increasingly, CFOs of major organizations come armed with MBAs rather than accounting degrees, or they come from the ranks of the CPAs. As generalists, they appreciate the vital role they play in keeping a pulse on the financial data that reflects the health of their businesses. They use numbers as a language that reveals early indications of potential financial danger or as identifiers of early trends that point to opportunities beyond the immediate horizon.

An Entry through IT

Because finance was one of the earliest business sectors to embrace technology and automate enterprise resource planning and accounting systems, CFOs have long been directly involved in, if not actively managing, the IT function. Not surprisingly, more than half of CFO and finance functions are at the forefront of digitization, and many CFOs have a strategic role in enterprise-wide digital transformation initiatives.

This familiarity with technology, combined with a deep appreciation of how automating processes can free staff for more strategic tasks, makes CFOs great allies in initiatives that foster growth.

In a recent podcast entitled “The Evolution of the CFO”1 discussing the 2018 survey The New CFO Mandate,2 McKinsey partner Ankur Agrawal says, “CFOs, of course, have an important role in vetting expenses and vetting the investments the companies are making. That said, CFOs have this cross-functional visibility of the entire business, which makes them very well suited to being the digital officers.”

The CFO as a Change Agent

CFOs want their value as strategic growth enablers to be recognized, which opens an important opportunity for marketers. According to the same McKinsey survey, CFOs’ perception of their value creation in areas of strategic leadership, performance management, and organizational transformation exceeds that of other members of the C-suite. The survey states, “CFOs are more likely than peers to say they play a strategic role in transformations: nearly half say they are responsible for setting high-level goals, while only one-third of non-CFOs say their CFOs were involved in objective setting. Additionally, finance leaders are nearly twice as likely as others are to say that CFOs helped design a transformation’s road map.”

Making a Solid Business Case

To bring CFOs fully into your court, be sure to frame ideas and strategies around a solid business case. Highlight the way your solution or offering fosters growth and profitability by improving operations and increasing productivity. Additionally, emphasize benefits that drive growth, such as deepening customer loyalty or strengthening the company’s agility.

CFOs can be an important ally in your marketing efforts. It’s up to you to foster that relationship by effectively articulating your strategic value.


1. Ankur Agrawal, Priyanka Prakash, and Sean Brown, “The Evolution of the CFO,” podcast, McKinsey & Company website, June 26, 2019,

2. Ankur Agrawal et al., The New CFO Mandate: Prioritize, Transform, Repeat, survey, McKinsey & Company website, December 3, 2018,