Jean Paul Antelo, managing director and head Global Transaction Services for Andean and Central America of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, cited a recent survey which shows that CFOs spend 70 percent of their time on routine operational tasks.
Antelo’s comment posed a disturbing question to the heads of the finance function: Is there enough time in a day to excel in the task of helping, and perhaps leading, corporate strategy design and execution?
Even worse, at times, day-to-day routine does not take up 70 percent of the time, but 90 percent, as Pluspetrol Norte CFO Esteban Diez stated. This is especially true during difficult or volatile spells, he said.
Time Management for CFOs
Pedro Malo, CFO of Peruvian consumer goods firm Alicorp, said that the head of finance has to take that time constraint into consideration, and select wisely what to do with the remaining 20 or 30 percent of their time. To begin with, Malo said, CFOs have to realize that they have three distinct strategic functions to perform.
The first function involves leading the strategic processes, which implies setting three-year plans with annual budgets, updating goals, and informing the CEO about execution results. The second function, said Malo, is strategic decision-making and entails managing all the information gathered from the organization and fostering intelligent discussions around that information with the rest of the company. The third function is strategic thinking, which requires CFOs to step back from their daily tasks and scan their environment.
Another thing that cuts into that 30 percent of a CFO’s unclaimed time is dealing with mergers and acquisitions and other major unexpected operations. CFOs have to take into consideration that a considerable percentage of acquisitions are opportunistic, and so are not part of a clearly laid-out plan.
Perhaps what is key, the group discussion concluded, is for the finance team to apply its technical skills and always have a precise and well-supported opinion on the strategy on hand to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to new situations. Belcorp CFO Gisele Remy added that, process automation, which eliminates spreadsheets, leaves more time for finance executives to read trends and evaluate how they affect the company.