Financial Executives and the Data Imperative

The Financial Executives Research Foundation, in partnership with Grant Thornton, is working on a research project focusing on the how senior level financial executives need to prioritize their myriad responsibilities with the drive towards digital transformation.

In this video, FERF speaks with Chris Stephenson, Principal, Business Consulting & Technology, Grant Thornton LLP, about the current environment that financial executives and how technology and data is becoming an increasing priority. A transcript appears under the video.

Financial Executive Research Foundation: What is the environment for financial executives today?

Chris Stephenson: Financial executives are in an ever-changing environment right now, and if you look at what their role was 10, 15, 20 years ago, they were a data steward. Companies had a lot less information back then, they had financial information, some basic metrics, and the CFO owned that.

What's changed for the financial executive is the world and companies are more data-driven. We have more data points than we've ever collected before. We're collecting things from the Internet of Things, from all these personal devices. This includes everything about sales and marketing, supply chain. All of that has become more data-driven.

And because of the skills that a finance department or finance organization has on how to aggregate this information, they are being asked to turn it into insights and tell the story to drive decisions. I'm seeing CFOs that are getting a lot of this data, and therefore, a lot of this functionality pushed on to them.

Instead of just talking about financials and basic information, CFO’s are involved in just about every conversation going in the organization. What it looks like from a CFO's perspective, is there rightfully moving up the value chain in, in conversations and decisions they can contribute to, because they have mastered the data and the systems.

And they are focused now on simplifying some of the repeatable exercises so they can up-level, not just their role, but the entire organization as well and the company.

FERF: What are the biggest data challenges that financial executives are facing?

Stephenson: I think there's pockets of success, but I think if you ask the average CFO they feel that there's still lack of integration of data. They feel there's a lot of manual processes behind it. And often the systems get blamed. And the systems are part of that journey, and with all the new big data, cloud-based technology, processing power is no longer an issue.

What I think companies are starting to realize is that data is power.

And it's not just having mass quantities of data, it's having mass quantities of high quality data. I think companies are feeling very good from a reporting perspective. They build nice, fancy dashboards with lots of systems out there. They have high processing power of data, and they know how to collect it. But now the challenge is, so what? How do you find insights out of that? How do you use that for strategic planning? And then, finally, can I trust the data I'm looking at?

FERF: How are systems in the financial suite adapting to this data overload?

Stephenson: There's a lot more technology now on how to push different systems the key data together, how to report on that and how to build insights from that. I think there's going to be interesting technology push. Do I go and redo my whole system, bottom up and build my integration from design, or do I look at ways to continue to connect my systems that are collecting and gathering information today? That will cause reporting to come up at a surface level and cause some of this data points that I've talked about.


I think a lot of finance organizations right now are optimized for getting through all the transactions and, and managing their day-to-day, taking on new things, but not stepping back and standardizing how they're doing things which is the first step towards optimizing.