4 Ways for CFOs to Navigate the Changing Tech-Finance Relationship

An April 25, 2023 article, written by Andrew Kenney and posted by FM Financial Management, suggests that CFOs should take the lead in collaborating with IT teams and allow finance to take on more tech responsibilities.

“Finance teams are embracing new technology, from automation to analytics, but they can’t do it without help. As they undertake broad digital transformations, they’re working closely with their companies’ IT teams to connect data sources, streamline processes, secure digital information, and more. This collaboration has spurred a change in the relationship between finance and technology teams — one that could determine both groups’ success or failure in the age of innovation.”


To make the most of this changing relationship, finance leaders interviewed provided these four tips for this article:
Develop a relationship with tech leaders: The capacity of finance to implement new technologies begins with the CFO’s relationship with the company’s technology leader. This has been true in some form since the days of mainframes and punch cards. But the scope and frequency of today’s projects — such as implementing cloud services or pulling in new data sources — requires closer collaboration.

“Today, if you look at any major transformation project, it does involve technology,” said Keren Stephen, FCMA, CGMA, CPA (Canada), the vice-president of finance and decision support for the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Canada and a board member for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “The head of technology is often tasked with the technology strategy for the organization. So, if finance plays a big part of that overall transformation strategy, it’s just so logical that you need to work very closely with the head of technology.”

It’s incumbent on the CFO to take the initiative in developing these relationships, Stephen said.
“Evaluate the situation, understand the challenges of the CIO, and then come up with the best way you can build a win-win partnership,” Stephen said. “Get to know IT, get to know how they work, get to know how their processes work.”

Keep an open mind and win IT’s trust: Another important factor in making IT a business partner is to bring the department in early when working on a major project, according to Helen MacPhee, a UK-based chartered accountant and senior vice-president for finance at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. For any tech-heavy project, she suggested bringing “a sense of direction but not a defined path” to the technology department and asking for their advice on how to complete those goals.

“We have to show that finance is very vested in the project,” she said. “We are not saying, ‘You do the job.’ We are saying, ‘We want to do it, and we need your help.’” And when projects succeed, the relationship grows stronger.
Bring teams together: The relationship between finance and technology teams isn’t just about the executives. At AstraZeneca, MacPhee has ensured that employees at all levels of the organization can work directly with their peers on the technology team. “If you’re working on a particular activity, what you want is for the teams to come together and divide the responsibilities between them,” she said. One way to encourage that is by ensuring finance and technology team members are meeting regularly. Leaders should model a culture of cross-team collaboration.
Allow finance to take on more tech responsibilities: In some companies, finance is taking on more tech-related responsibilities as technological change accelerates. That’s especially evident with cloud-based platforms. Cloud-based apps can make it easier for finance teams to take on basic system administration roles, the article said. “Many clients wanted to take on as much [responsibility] as they could in the finance department and reduce the responsibility that IT was to take on.”

Finance executives are hiring for technological skills throughout their teams. They are recruiting engineers and mathematicians who can “think logically through the development of the finance function,” and many new hires now have an aptitude for lower-level coding, as well as data aggregation and visualization tools.

But, warns the article, “while finance may be taking on a more active role in planning and managing projects, IT should retain authority and expertise in the domain.”