Federal CFO: Process Maven or Strategist?

Translating current events into opportunities

Ask my 7-year-old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, and she’ll proudly announce “A rehabber!”.

Raise an eyebrow? Most do. But she doesn’t mean the kind that deals with humans. She wants to be a wildlife rehabilitator—the kind that rescue animals and nurse them back to health.

The seconds between answer and explanation typically offer an interesting glimpse into the human psyche. Adult brains quickly move from mild curiosity (“what will this kid say?”) to abject horror (“how does she know what rehab is?!”) to relief (“ah, animals!”) and back to curiosity (“but why not a vet?”).

Titles are important. Are you an Accountant? A Partner at an accounting firm? A CFO? You may be all three, but what you choose to call yourself has a big impact on how the rest of the world views you.

Last month at the Association of Government Accountants annual conference, I participated in a session hosted by Grant Thornton for CFOs and their deputies. The focus was to share the results of the 2016 Annual CFO Survey, discuss challenges, share lessons learned and offer qualitative input for use in the 2017 Annual CFO Survey.

Federal CFOs see data science as a means of accomplishing their mission as #Qlik's Heather Gittings explains

Four key themes emerged from the 2016 survey results (check them out for yourself here: http://bit.ly/2wtBY68):

  1. Financial systems and tools
  2. Communication and alignment
  3. Reporting requirements
  4. The role of the CFO

Most discussed was the role of the CFO. Elevating Federal Finance to the C suite has no doubt had a positive effect. However, in the decades since the passing of the CFO Act of 1990, agencies interpretations (and subsequent implementation) of the CFO’s role have varied markedly. Strategic planning, budget, risk management, financial management…what’s most important? And at the core of the debate—should the CFO manage process or drive strategy?

Both have their pros and cons, of course. For those focused on process, overseeing accounting—both budgetary and financial—is first and foremost. Those with a strategic vision for Finance see the ability to influence the overall direction of an agency.

As the discussion unfolded, it became clear just how closely the other three themes—financial systems and tools, communication and alignment and reporting requirements—intertwined with the role of the CFO. How one views the role impacts the approach to gaining alignment across the organization, system and tool usage and adoption and treatment of reporting requirements. The common thread? Analytics.

CFOs increasingly see data science as a means of accomplishing their mission. During one of the panel discussions at AGA, Tom Carroll, CFO of the Architect of the Capitol, said “Data, and the use of data, is here to stay, and it’s growing.” He went on to explain how CFOs who, “know how to take current events and translate them into today’s opportunities,” make effective leaders.

Today’s Federal CFOs can make a big impact in government. For example, billions can be saved by uncovering fraud, waste and abuse, and reducing improper payments. And many of today’s regulatory requirements offer CFOs a chance to steer the agency (and government overall). Take the DATA Act—the data elements you are required to submit offer a gold mine for analysis (check out our latest app: http://bit.ly/2r51fkk).

So, what is the role of the CFO? Join the conversation by completing the annual AGA CFO Survey: http://bit.ly/2wtBY68.


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