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Next-Gen CFO: The enabler of strategic change in retail

From supply chain innovation to the introduction of advanced in-store experiences, today’s retail sector looks radically different to the industry of a decade ago.

One of the most profound and far-reaching results of these changes, and the technologies that have enabled them, has been an explosion in the volume of data. With so much data now available to retailers, the challenge is to understand which is most critical to innovation, the bottom line and new value creation.

In turn, we find that the CFO – as an established expert in understanding and managing large amounts of data – is becoming more influential and strategically minded than ever before. Some might say that we are, in effect, entering a new era in retail: where value is the new economy, data its currency and the CFO its champion.

Accenture’s research of more than 700 CFOs and senior financial executives – which included more than 80 in the retail sector – highlights CFOs’ unique ability to drive their businesses forward through their understanding of data and digital technologies. Eighty per cent of retail CFOs believe they are best-placed to identify new value and drive business transformation across their organization, for example.

In addition, 84% are targeting new areas of value across the broader ecosystem by considering partner, supplier and customer data. Add all of this to the fact that CFOs are taking the lead on operational efficiency, and it’s not hard to see why CFOs across the sector are becoming strategic enablers of business success.

Above all, we see three key areas in which retail CFOs are driving change, making their companies more responsive, relevant and profitable.

Making the toughest technology decisions
With so many new technologies coming on stream, retailers have a significant opportunity to improve efficiencies, disrupt their rivals and harness consumer insight from the vast quantity of data and insights generated. Retail finance chiefs are well positioned to champion these decisions and determine what the business needs.

Our research suggests that 77% of retail CFOs are taking an active role in driving operational transformation across their organizations, with 74% leading the adoption of digital technologies.

These technologies have the power to improve business performance and customer experience. Deciding which technologies to invest in, and sequencing their implementation effectively, is a business-defining responsibility. And, more and more, it is the CFO – rather than the CTO or CDO – who is making the decisions.

The data authority
As technology pervades retail, using data to understand consumers is complex but vital. This is the only way to anticipate their changing requirements, satisfy their expectations and ultimately earn their loyalty.

With this in mind, the CFOs in our survey understand that creating “one version of the truth” about customers is critical to understanding preferences and delivering on them. As a result, these retailers will be able to deliver the seamless end-to-end experience that consumers are increasingly expecting of their retailers

As data authority in their organizations, our research suggests that CFOs are focusing on digital transformation through integration of front-end investments and back office tools and systems, which will enable better access to data. They are also using their background in data to support colleagues in deriving stronger insight from analytics, with 89% believe finance is better equipped than other departments to derive value from these investments.

Preparing for next generation talent
It is clear that the remit of today’s CFO extends far beyond the managing of financial risk and performance that is still carried out by accountants in the back office: 79% of retail CFOs believe their activities are far removed from the tasks performed by their wider finance function.

Yet a growing number of finance professionals are also keen to take on a more strategic role, in the footsteps of the CFO. Artificial intelligence and automation continue to free up capacity and resource, giving them the bandwidth they need to focus on value creation. Today, the priority is for retail financial chiefs to consider the talent necessary to future proof their finance teams with non-traditional but vital skills such as data storytelling.

This is reflective of a broader trend across retail functions, as highlighted in Accenture’s Future Workforce report, that future teams need a more diverse range of skills to succeed rather than excelling in one competency.

Conclusion: Enabling future retail
What will the retailer of the future look like, and how will the CFO make it a reality? While many organizations are balancing traditional finance tasks with newer, more strategic and analytical responsibilities, a distinct few are paving the way for the next generation of retail operations.

For finance teams, this is empowering a new wave of talent to move away from transactional and repetitive tasks towards more value-adding activities. In so doing, they are enabling the business to unlock the opportunities of the future.

Jill Standish is senior managing director and head of retail at Accenture.

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