CFOs have broken new ground in how we find markets and invest resources. But now our role is changing with regard to emerging technologies.

COLUMN | August 1, 2023

Rethinking the CFO’s mandate

Why today’s CFOs should care about emerging technology.

By Gina Mastantuono

In business, we’re often told not to reinvent the wheel. If something’s working, why change it? But a progressive CFO excels at reinvention. In the past, CFOs have broken new ground in how we find markets, invest resources, and align purpose and the bottom line. Now, it’s time to reinvent the role itself.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I was going to school for accounting,
I never thought I’d be a CFO, let alone be making decisions about new innovations like artificial intelligence. But that’s exactly what I do.

For this generation of leaders, being a CFO is not simply about managing risk and compliance, overseeing accounting and reporting, and so on. Capital allocation is more important than ever, and this includes overseeing the company’s investments. Those may involve technology, talent, new products, and more. It’s about making smart choices, looking around corners, and being a key strategic thought partner to the CEO.

In many ways, this is new territory. The CFO is expected to wear more hats than ever before. Today’s CFO is an influential partner with the chief technology officer and often acts as a chief relationship broker across the entire C-suite. We’re here to lead ambitious projects and to dream big.

But seen from another angle, it isn’t really a surprise. In the late ’70s, Melvin Howard, the CFO of Xerox, predicted that the CFO would eventually play a larger part in the overall decision-making process of their companies. In other words, we’ve been tilting in this direction for decades.


 About Low-code platforms

I love my job because it never stops changing.

CFOs are now expected to help shape their organization’s strategy, according to research firm McKinsey. The C-suite looks to us for guidance on corporate strategy, risk management, and transformation.

At the same time, the world is in a period of huge and restless change. Challenging the status quo feels dangerous. Executives are increasingly risk-averse, focusing on tightening their purse strings instead of trying new things.

What’s the path forward for the CFO? Balk at risk and let the other executives make the first moves? Or work even harder to drive change?
I argue that it’s the latter. But I’m in the minority here. Two-thirds of CFOs surveyed by Deloitte said this is a bad time to take risks.

Although our current moment poses myriad challenges, I don’t think this is a time to hole up and wait for conditions to improve. And luckily, smart risk-taking is something I’m comfortable with.

Contrary to popular belief, executives should take risks during tough times. It’s not just smart; it’s essential. Last year, a group of researchers showed that organizations that went against the grain and innovated during the Great Depression survived and thrived. That’s because innovation has the power to help us get work done—smarter, faster, and cheaper. When resources are tight, that’s as good as gold.

Digitization has only increased the innovation imperative. In our race to digitize, technology strategy has become business strategy. Every new technology investment is a potential game-changer, and as CFO, I have to anticipate where the market is going and keep my organization one step ahead.

Most CFOs act as a forcing function to drive connectivity and communication across the enterprise. In other words, a lot of roads lead back to us. We’re in a perfect position to embrace exciting new technologies that can make work better so the enterprise emerges from this turbulent moment not just intact but better off.

This brings us back to artificial intelligence.

AI is one of the major innovations that the CFO should take seriously, particularly generative AI, which is artificial intelligence that uses data to generate new knowledge at scale.

Why is that? For one, generative AI is about to take off in a big way. We have only begun to see what this technology is capable of. In the next few years, organizations, particularly finance organizations, are going to experiment wildly with this new technology to see how much ROI they can extract from it. The CFO will play a crucial role in ensuring the organization makes smart investments.

Taking a more expansive view of the role means thinking critically about how we can steer adoption of this crucial new technology. And as technologies like AI take on more everyday tasks, we can focus on providing strategic advice to our partners, using human skills like empathy, communication, and problem-solving.

The CFO can’t afford to relegate technology—and innovation more broadly—to other functions in the organization. Rather, it’s our job to take the lead and peer around the corners to see what’s coming next. Innovation creates opportunities to drive growth, protect the bottom line, and grow the top line to ultimately deliver value. These goals are central to the CFO’s purpose.

From day one, my career has been about growth and development. I love to take a leap. That’s why I’m thrilled my role isn’t just about finance anymore. It’s about investing in the future we all want—and then creating it.


Can GPT-3 change AI for business?

Related articles

I’m a CFO. Here’s how to sell me on digital transformation.
I’m a CFO. Here’s how to sell me on digital transformation.

Digital transformation should be top of mind for every C-suite executive these days. Why? Done right, it can deliver great experiences.

Are you ready for generative AI?
Are you ready for generative AI?

Buckle up: ChatGPT and similar chatbots will change business irrevocably

The data behind the disruption
The data behind the disruption

Learn how AI is upending the workforce in this Q&A with data scientist Dr. Richard George

Generative AI is a game changer. Companies need to set the new rules of the game.
Generative AI is a game changer. Companies need to set the new rules of the game.

There are no hard and fast answers yet, but governance pitfalls are rife, from bias and security threats to the spread of shadow AI


Gina Mastantuono, Chief Financial Officer on a colored background.

Gina Mastantuono is the chief financial officer of ServiceNow.

Loading spinner