CFO trends 2024: 6 insights & priorities for a bumper business year

Patrick Whatman

Published on February 13, 2024

It’s an exciting time to be in finance. 2024 promises new tests, more uncertainty, and tighter belts. This means more focus on efficiency, real-time reporting, and cash flow. That’s the CFO’s bread and butter. 

This is the perfect environment to hone your skills and learn as much as possible from those who’ve been there before. And the CFO position keeps expanding to include more operations, leadership, and business partnering responsibilities.

So what are top CFOs obsessing about in 2024?

Based on surveys, interviews, webinars, and conversations with CFOs around the world, these priorities have emerged as focal points for the coming year. 

Here’s a brief look at six key trends for CFOs in 2024. Get the ebook for more detail and insights:

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1. Focus on leading through permacrisis

You’re probably sick and tired of hearing about (and living) through “crisis times.” And that’s exactly the point. We’ve settled into a routine of moving from one problem to the next. 

Employees are tired, companies are stretched, and none of these shows any sign of stopping. Your job as a senior leader, then, is to keep the collective focus on the important, impactful factors that influence your business. 

“Crisis times really put a requirement on leadership that your #1 job is to simplify for your team, says ClickUp CFO Dan Zhang. “How do you help the team shut down the noise, focus, define success, and deliver?”

Despite your first instincts, the answer probably isn’t more data and measurement. Vulnavia Gura, CFO at TheStudentHub, explains that “leadership has moved more toward mentorship. Previously it was all about KPIs. Now you need to make sure your people are ok, they’re comfortable. These are signals for productivity later.”

CFOs are senior executives in both title and experience, and the mere fact that you’ve probably been through crises before and come out unscathed is valuable. Others want to see that this isn’t your first rodeo. 

They also want to know that they aren’t in it alone. And that includes other senior leaders. Only 22% of CMOs report having a truly collaborative relationship with their CFO, for example. 

Taylor Otstot, VP Finance at Dashlane, says that one of the main responsibilities of a finance leader is to help make stakeholders better. “Our job is to guide and coach the other teams. Make sure the resources or structure is there. Make sure the team can function at a high level and can execute.

“Business is a team sport.”

2. Rigorously optimize cash flow

2024 will be another year of tight budgets and slow growth (if any). Corporate success measures will begin and end with cash efficiency - how companies turn money spent into money earned. 

New cash flow tools and strategies have cropped up to help. But it’s the businesses who get the basics right that will emerge victorious.

“Even the best cash flow management isn’t going to help you if your business fundamentals are out of whack.” - Theresa Yu, fractional CFO at Pegafund

In other words, you need to have a good handle on your business’s unit economics and an accurate understanding of your cash burn and runway. 

Theresa Yu, fractional CFO Pegafund says, “It’s common in high-growth companies to focus on the scale of your services and product, and not invest the time to ensure that your financial processes have caught up. But I recommend that you set time aside, even on an annual basis, to evaluate the sufficiency of your financial processes.”

Theresa sees poor cash management as a key reason companies fail. The most common issues include:

  • Failure to assess processes

  • Lack of forecasting around future cash inflows and outflows

  • Poor working capital management

  • Ability to predict financing needs

  • No contingency plan when your first approach fails

Clearly the top CFOs and finance teams will push energy energy into cash operations in 2024. Good working capital management and a healthy rainy day cushion continue to be essential. 

3. Guide teams through difficult planning cycles

Another side effect of permacrisis is the added pressure on planning. Each quarterly planning cycle seems to bleed directly into the next, and annual plans get torn up by their midpoint.

As Stripe’s Head of Global Finance & Strategy Saoirse Fahey puts it, “a budget or forecast is a bunch of assumptions that will probably all be wrong. It’s just a matter of how wrong they are.”

But that’s no reason to throw up your hands. The CFO’s role is to bring people together and continuously improve this process, even where others become fed up. Because the value of  good business financial planning is clear.

Again, teamwork is crucial. Planning must be done across departments, and the more collaborative, the better. 

Christian Wattig, Managing Director at FP&A Prep, suggests you “create a forecast that is jointly done between your finance teams and business teams. If your finance team attempts to create a forecast in isolation, it won’t be close enough to the business to be useful.”

Saoirse Fahey sees things the same way, especially for budgets: “It’s a great opportunity to align across all the teams, making sure that sales can hit their targets, that we have the right operations and sales support for what we plan to sell and the number of users. Those interconnected things need to be funded appropriately and make sense for all the teams.”

Finally, will 2024 be the year of top-down or bottom-up budgets? As with everything in life, says Saoirse, the answer is somewhere in the murky middle. 

“You need some guardrails on the expected shape of the business over a specific time frame. That helps folks make sure whatever bottom-up work they’re doing lines up with expectations. And boards and CEOs are extremely opinionated, so getting alignment from a top-down shape is really helpful.

“But it’s really important to do a bottom-up because then you’re able to flag risks, upsides, investments, and the assumptions you’re making.”

4. Carefully build your finance tool stack

Finding the perfect tools for your finance function is an endless pursuit. CFOs are constantly looking for process improvements, cost savings, and efficiency gains. 2024 will be no different.

But according to Spendesk CFO Julien Lafouge tools themselves may not be the place to start. “Tools are not the first thing I look at. I start with people, then processes, then tools. Once you’ve defined your process, look for a tool that’s as close to your process as possible. Or find a tool that’s close to what you want, then adapt your process. 

“I won’t embark on a one-year process to adapt the tool. It de-focuses the whole finance team and the whole company.” - Julien Lafouge, CFO, Spendesk

Jorge Lluch, COO at Abacum, agrees with Julien, although his order of priorities is slightly different: “First, I need to understand the current processes and expectations. What do you expect from me? Then assess people on your team, and then the systems and tools you have to reach your goals. Choosing the right tools is key, but before that you need to have the right people in place.”

In other words, your finance stack should be fit for purpose and built for need. And for Aircall VP of FP&A Paul Mondollot, those needs can be determined by risk. “Looking at the complexity of US taxes, we chose to fast track our tax tool Avalara in order to be aligned on taxes.” Any sort of tax issue is obviously a big liability risk.

Paul offers another example: “Maybe you’re struggling to understand the data and you can’t forecast. In that case, start with BI tools or an EPM.”

Inside Aircall’s finance tool stack

Cost is another factor to be mindful of. Finance teams face the same budget constraints as other functions, and leaders must allocate wisely. Julien says: “You shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking the cost of the tool is the only price you pay.”

There are often hidden costs – financial, resources, labor – associated with finance tools that CFOs should keep in mind when evaluating their tool stack. You’ll need to consider:

  • How much the license itself costs

  • Recurring monthly subscription costs, user limits, potential upgrades

  • How many FTEs to dedicate to the tool

  • Potential loss or gain of productivity and the associated costs

  • Risk of error

  • Associated manual tasks

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5. Expand cautiously, but confidently

For those lucky companies looking to grow in 2024, international expansion remains an important but challenging aim. 

There are three key occasions when this might make sense:

  1. Talent sourcing. You need to leverage a global workforce in order to stay competitive on the global market. 

  2. Lower costs. Labor might be more economical in another region. 

  3. Increasing addressable market. If you’ve saturated or “won” your home market, then going abroad to find new customers makes sense. 

But stepping into the unknown is always nerve-wracking. Even if the lure of a new addressable market or cheap labour is hard to ignore, you can’t afford to rush in unprepared. And as CFO, risk management is part of the job.

“It’s not worth taking the risk where you will be caught having a permanent establishment while being non-compliant,” says Philippe Bouaziz, CFO at Deel. “The regulator will come and penalize you. And another worst case scenario is when the fine goes to the customer.”

Rob Goldenberg, CFO at 6Sense highlights other potential issues. “A fine is bad, but not the worst possible outcome. Even closing and reopening the local office isn’t as bad. The worst outcome would be creating a permanent establishment in a country and then finding out you’re not compliant, and the penalty is a percentage of your revenue… forever. That’s the worst.”

These scenarios aren’t meant to dissuade, but to offer a reality check before you become a global company. Work with local experts, and always understand what you’re getting into before the enthusiasm of commercial leaders drags you down a difficult path. 

6. Keep exploring AI in corporate finance

2023 was the year that artificial intelligence became a global fascination. Every new startup was building on generative AI or machine learning, and every existing company was looking for ways to add it to their workflows. 

But while these tools can do amazing things as writers, illustrators, and coders, they haven’t proven a game changer for finance teams. Yet. 

Michelle Valentine, CEO and co-founder of Anrok, urges finance professionals to play around with generative AI while it’s still relatively new.

“These tools are free and the more you use the tool, the more use cases you can unleash. The biggest skill you should hone is prompting the model. Don’t expect the first answer to be the final answer. Iterate, go back and forth with the model like a draft.”

FP&A expert Christian Wattig has a few predictions about where AI can take the FP&A function specifically: 

“Automation is advancing quickly in the field, and AI is moving very quickly. It will take over a lot of the repetitive tasks. Cleaning your data, getting it in the right format, even doing simple repetitive analysis tasks…all of this will be automated with AI and automation tools.”

Given how quickly artificial intelligence advanced in just the past one or two years, it’s inevitable that great AI finance tools will emerge. In the meantime, CFOs are already using them to prepare and improve reports, write briefs and memos, and even craft LinkedIn posts and thought leadership content. 

We all know that the CFO role goes way beyond numbers. Which means there’s plenty to gain from AI tools right now. 

2024: More of the same, but different

None of the six key CFO trends will come as a huge surprise. These themes arguably took hold in 2020 with the global pandemic, but work equally well in any modern decade (other than AI, perhaps). 

2024 may well be the year of acceptance: settling into a world where cash remains king and efficiency is paramount. There probably won’t be a sudden rush where company values skyrocket again and every customer is desperate to spend. 

That’s normal. And it’s the CFO’s job to calmly, authoritatively show their team and the wider company how to perform in this world. 

Your experience, leadership, and poise will make all the difference. At least until the robots get better at math.

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