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The Disruptive Mentality More CFOs May Need

March 18, 2016 Mitchell Buchanan  
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In our personal lives, we sometimes might try to stay true to the concept of “live like there’s no tomorrow,” but how would your work change if you thought the company you’re working for might soon cease to exist?

According to consulting firm Accenture, that’s what a quarter of CFOs already believe. In fact, the Accenture Strategy report, CFO Reality Check: Good Intentions in Cost Management are Not Good Enough, suggests that all the talk of “disruption” has a number of financial leaders wondering when an Uber or AirBNB-style startup will start to chip away at the bottom line.

These topline stats from the report are pretty revealing about CFO attitudes in 2016:

  • 58% of CFOs think their industries will be disrupted
  • 41% think that more than half of their competitors will disappear
  • 59% of CFOs think strategic cost management must be part of their response at some stage

It’s important to recognize that not all CFO research presents the same perspective, at least not about the near future. In fact, a recent Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook sponsored by Prime Advantage polled financial leaders in mid-sized manufacturers who actually showed an increase in positivity.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the results of the survey,” Mike McDonald, Vice President, Business Development and Marketing at Prime Advantage told EBN in an interview. “Most companies said they were more optimistic about their prospects than about the whole economy. Our expectations were probably a little lower.”

CFOs in the retail sector were similarly upbeat in a poll conducted by international accounting firm BDO, in which 75% said they expected 2016 to be a year in which sales increased. That’s a bit down from the last time the survey was conducted, but there was a sense CFOs were prepared to weather market turbulence.

The question from all this data becomes, how should finance leaders balance their short-term optimism with long-term concerns about disruption? Tackling that might begin as follows: how positive is your outlook about your firm’s prospects over the next quarter or even the rest of this year vis-a-vis competitors? What (or who) are the disruptors that could weaken your confidence over the next several years? What can you do in response?

If your company has a solid plan in place between now and your next financial close, for instance, stay on that plan. If technologies like cloud computing are creating the potential for major disruption at some point, maybe it’s best to stay one step ahead of it by harnessing the same technology for your own purposes. CFOs can’t expect to be eternally optimistic, but a willingness to disrupt before being disrupted is probably the only outlook that the most successful of them will all share.

As Jack Welch elegantly put it – “change before you have to”.

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