Jim Head’s 22 years at Morgan Stanley concluded as the co-leader of the investment bank’s Mergers, Acquisitions and Restructuring Group. During that time, he had a unique vantage on the role of the CFO, helping scores of finance chiefs solve their financial problems. Then, as the pandemic roared in November 2021, he became one. “I didn’t have the burden of growing up a CFO, but I shared in their burdens,” says Head, CFO of publicly traded company MultiPlan, a provider of cost management, payment and revenue solutions to the U.S. healthcare industry.
During his early years at Morgan Stanley, Head watched as CFOs inched closer to becoming the strategy partner of the CEO and took on an increasing array of operations, technology and compliance responsibilities. “Five years ago, the CFOs I worked with ran accounting, tax, FP&A, and some corporate development, investor relations, M&A and strategy; they made sure resources were allocated, risks were managed, and the capital structure was in the right place,” he says.
Now a CFO himself, he says his job entails “much more offense and defense,” citing the need to “fund new growth opportunities and take on more investment risks, and manage game-changing economic, labor and AI issues coming out of nowhere. To be a CFO today, you have to support the rest of the business and get your hands dirty by digging into operations.”
His comments resonated with seven other CFOs across diverse industries, each asked to posit where their jobs are headed and what the role of the CFO will be in 2030. Nearly all the finance chiefs forecast increasing operational responsibilities for CFOs and the finance and accounting organization, with team members positioned inside corporate functions to assist higher value decision-making. Given historic changes in work and people management, and the recent development of Generative AI tools to operate at market speed, this next iteration makes complete sense.
As Kathryn Kaminsky, vice chair and trust solutions co-leader at audit and advisory firm PwC, put it, “Someone has to be held accountable in 2030 for all the promises being made today, whether it be `net zero’ emissions, what the business will look like, what will be done for people, and the roles that data, technology and AI will play. As the CEO’s main protector, the CFO needs to ensure that leaders across the business are making the right decisions.”
Myles Corson, global and Americas strategy and markets leader at audit and advisory firm EY, offered a similar opinion, commenting that finance chiefs “will continue to understand the CEO’s vision for the organization and how it ties into what the corporation is trying to achieve in 2030, but as they develop the skills to sit alongside commercial functions like operations, marketing and sales, their teams will be directly plugged into them as key players, making business decisions together in real time.”
This journey is already underway, according to most of the CFOs we asked to project their future. Here’s what else they had to say (comments have been edited for concision, clarity and comprehension):
“Accountants will continue to come here out of the audit and tax firms, but they’ll be more multidimensional, skilled in business and technology.”
Bob Feller, CFO at network management and monitoring software provider Auvik Networks
“The CFO role has been moving toward more of a COO-like role, at least that’s been the case for me. As the accounting function becomes much more automated and less time-consuming in 2030, instead of reporting the news we will spend more time forecasting what’s ahead. You can’t do that effectively without understanding and being involved in operations, helping the go-to-market process, helping craft the sales plans, supporting the customer service function and investing in new products.
“In 2030, the CFO will be a businessperson, an operational person and a technology person first, and an accountant second. We’ll be the glue between all the various C-level positions, with a view of every part of the business. Our time will be spent talking to the leaders of the other functions to help the business flow and grow, based on the data we’re all getting from Generative AI and other tools that develop between now and then.
“FP&A will become more important and accounting less. But I do see accounting becoming the breeding ground for FP&A. Despite automation and AI taking over a lot of the tasks, there’s still a ton of compliance to do. That’s not going away; we’ll still need accountants to deal with government entities, tax entities and quasi-government entities. In 2030, accountants will move into a more value-added FP&A function, and then into future leadership roles.”
“When I think about my role as the CFO, I don’t view it as the head of finance but as an enterprise leader making and helping others with strategic decisions.”
Chris Castaldo, CFO at leading global insurer QBE North America
“To run the business of finance by 2030, we will rely in large part on automation and AI, a shift that is already occurring in increments. As this occurs, the CFO will have an outsized influence on the operations of the business, closely involved in structuring the organization and enhancing the role that data and analytics plays in managing the full lifecycle of the customer. To be ready for that, finance data needs to be more granular, where we blend traditional ledger data with sub-ledger data and source system data. Assuming this is the case, the CFO in 2030 will look at finance and operational data together in real-time to make faster and better business decisions.
“The role of the CFO as a curator and developer of talent is becoming increasingly important. Talent coming into the finance organization in the next seven years will be more quantitative, data literate, technology enabled and tech savvy, with a bias toward more of a commercial acumen. Finance professionals will cross over not just into the operations side but also the sales side.
“There is a huge opportunity for finance to become an exporter of talent into all areas of the business. Additionally, I can imagine the workforce in the finance function will be less siloed in the traditional support areas in 2030, freeing them up to support other functions on a project orientation basis, where their skill sets are utilized across a number of different project needs.”
“We’re getting to this point where accountants will be making decisions based on work delivered to them by AI.”
Peter Bonfiglio, CFO at bankruptcy technology and services provider Stretto
“As technology handles a lot more of the work in finance and accounting, we will have more FP&A people than people in financial reporting since more of their work will be done by computers. The ratio will shift but the numbers will remain level. The reason is the financial reporting people will find roles in FP&A because they understand the accounting implications of decisions. I’ve dealt with FP&A people without an accounting background asking questions like, `Why do I have to depreciate that over a bunch of years?’ An accounting-inclined person in FP&A already knows the answer.
“In seven years, I can imagine that large companies will have a big advantage over smaller companies, as they’ll be able to invest in labor-savings tools like Generative AI to get things done more efficiently and at lower cost. It could change the playing field dramatically, although smaller companies may join together to invest in and utilize AI as a group.”
“In 2030, our workforce will be even more remote, with employees in multiple countries. Just yesterday, I opened up a role in my function to someone in Poland. It will take a different skill set to manage and motivate remote employees. Videocalls are sort of a replacement for going to lunch, but it’s just not the same thing. To draw people together, I doubt it will be in a satellite office. Rather, we’ll see extremely well-prepared quarterly meetings and semi-annual meetings become even more important.”
“I’m already getting more involved in product design, not exactly a traditional CFO role in a financial institution.”
Qing Lu, CFO at Florida-based credit union Addition Financial Credit Union
“My role in 2030 will entail more financial risk management and internal analytics involving the profitability of products at the branches, as opposed to the traditional focus on reporting. AI is just beginning to take care of the reporting, making it a more streamlined and automatic process. In seven years, AI will handle most of it, freeing up my time to focus on product design and development.
“One of my goals in using AI is to learn why a particular product, and not others, is consistently unprofitable at several branches. Is it the pricing, the rates, the design or something else? Armed with this knowledge, I can make more insightful and much faster decisions.
“The prior CFO here was very conservative and outsourced most of the credit union’s financial risk management to an external party, which sent a PDF report identifying asset threats and earnings capacity to us every quarter. When I came on board, I decided a quarterly report wasn’t very useful. I formed an internal financial risk management team and we started to use the software ourselves modeling different scenarios. For example, if we purchase Treasuries now because rates are optimal, how might that affect our lending? By 2030, the team will have broad knowledge in finance, investments, lending and software. The various models they’ll build on credit and market risks will give me greater confidence in making more accurate and rapid decisions.”
“To be able to create growth quickly over the next decade, we have to become the most technologically advanced organization in the industry.”
Mark Brockelman, CFO at dental service organization Sage Dental
“We’ve got our foot in the water with AI now, but my concern is do we have the right AI tech solution? As we go forward toward 2030, I’m finding I need to hire more people in technology who understand the revenue cycle side of the business, which isn’t easy to find. We’ve got about three right now. As we hire more technology thought leaders, I see them becoming part of a larger FP&A team.
“We’ve started to integrate FP&A with our operations team, working closely with the regional vice presidents. A few regional VPs have become an extension of the finance team. This will continue and by 2030, I see finance and operations completely side-by-side. We may even get to a point where we’ve eliminated the concept of a separate FP&A organization, since it will be integrated into operations.
“We service 106 dental practices today and expect to get to 400 offices in a few years, becoming one of the largest dental services organizations by 2030. As we grow, the accounting team continues to shrink, given the efficiencies and expense savings in automating manual processes and outsourcing as much of the billing and payables as possible. Eventually, as finance and operations become integrated, the idea of separate siloes for finance and accounting make little sense.”
“The ways we did things yesterday don’t work today, and the ways we do things today won’t work tomorrow.”
Karen Walker, CFO at cloud security platform provider Sysdig
“By 2030, Generative AI will represent a huge shift along the lines of the Industrial Revolution, which had a major impact on non-skilled labor. By contrast, Generative AI will impact people with four-year college degrees and advanced degrees. But I don’t think the human is ever going away. Rather, AI will democratize work, regardless of the function, making data accessible to everyone for decisions.
“As Generative AI is used to do more and more tasks, the skill sets in finance and accounting will require analytical people who can validate the assumptions that went into the models. They’ll interpret the data and evaluate the outcomes to determine if they make sense, especially for more complex tasks like forecasting. What’s loud and clear is that people aren’t motivated by routine manual tasks. They’re excited about leveraging this technology to do work that’s impactful and meaningful.
“Hybrid work is here to stay, although we and other companies are still sorting out the right balance. For example, in-person work presents opportunities to build personal relationships and trust, which are needed to collaborate and brainstorm. By 2030, we’ll have figured out the right mix and hybrid will be the norm.”
“Three of my five kids were accounting majors and when they graduated, they got offers on top of offers.”
Pete Tantillo, CFO at pharmacy benefits automation and analytics platform Xevant
“Every technology provider to the finance function and the CFO is pitching AI to help inform our decisions. I just saw an AI product yesterday that was platform-agnostic and could be tailored for exception management and would learn and evolve over time. These things will be front and center by 2030, isolating strange patterns in accruals, payables or journal entries and making decisions in the company’s best interests, making it easier for me to do my job.
“Ten years ago, if asked where an F&A team needed to be, I would have said, `All together in New York City.’ Covid changed that and now the team works on a hybrid basis. The important thing is to make sure they’re cared for no matter where they live. If they feel empowered, they can be left to do their own thing. My job is to remove the boulders in their way. I don’t see that changing in seven years’ time.
“Although fewer kids are going into accounting today, those that do get hired immediately, particularly if, like my youngest son, they have a dual major in accounting and data analytics. The job in 2030 will be vastly more meaningful and rewarding for accountants, as they use AI tools to serve up deeper analyses to other functions.”
While nobody can predict the future, the startling evolution in the role of the CFO suggests anything but regression. A generation ago, finance chiefs were hard-nosed executives known and a bit feared for always saying, ‘No.’ By 2030, Corson from EY paints a much different picture.
“In seven years, the CFO is more communicative and empathetic, a storyteller whose role is to build consensus and commitment on organizational alignment, motivating people around the strategic priorities,” he says. “You can’t get people on board with the CEO’s vision without emotional intelligence.”