5 Lessons from 2023 to help CFOs Thrive in 2024!

One month into 2024 and the year is off to a flying start for CFOs, already in demand and being stretched thin! While at this time last year we all looked back on 2022 and approached 2023 with cautious optimism for a post-pandemic recovery, the reality proved far more nuanced and challenging.  Let’s all be honest, we all wanted 2023 to just be a little more ‘normal’ and slightly boring!

But unforeseen headwinds, from escalating cyber threats to surging interest rates and geopolitical tensions, tested the adaptability of even the most seasoned professionals.

However amidst the headwinds, there were silver linings. Talent wars took a breather, and a focus on people and technology emerged as vital pillars of success.

Reflecting on last year, 5 key themes were evident which will assist all CFOs navigate 2024:

Cyber Armageddon: From “If” to “When”

The cybersecurity landscape no longer whispers “if” but screams “when.” Cyberattacks are not a distant threat, but a constant reality. This shift demands a proactive defense from CFOs and finance leaders, with data encryption, employee training, and robust incident response plans becoming essential lines of defense. Emerging threats like ransomware, zero-day exploits, and supply chain attacks further underscore the need for vigilance and adaptability and CFOs should be the champions of change within their organisations

Building People: Beyond Recruitment to Retention

The finance function is no longer just about crunching numbers. It’s about nurturing the human element. Companies are prioritizing employee engagement, development, and retention, recognizing that happy, motivated individuals are the bedrock of a thriving finance team.

Tech Tsunami: Riding the Wave of Intelligent Automation

Automation is no longer the lone surfer on the tech wave. Intelligent automation, powered by AI and cloud-based solutions, is reshaping the financial landscape. Move beyond simple automation and explore the potential of AI-powered analytics for real-time insights that improve budgeting, forecasting, and risk management.

Data Whisperer: From “Bean Counter” to Strategic Advisor

Gone are the days of the finance function operating in isolation. Data is the new currency. If the finance team are the data custodians then, the CFO is now the data whisperer, translating complex financial information into actionable insights that guide business decisions and shape strategy. CFOs need to develop their data storytelling skills to effectively communicate these insights to non-financial stakeholders. They need to learn how to ‘humanise the numbers’. The need to invest in building a data-driven culture across the organization, empowering everyone to harness the power of information.

The AI Revolution: Embracing the Future, Responsibly

AI is no longer science fiction; it’s infiltrating the finance department. Demystify AI, explaining its basics and potential applications is where finance leaders can take the lead on the adoption of Ai in their businesses. However they must remember that AI is not a magic wand.

The overarching message from the webcasts was that 2023 was a year of lessons learned and realities redefined, demanding a flexible approach from companies to move from surviving to thriving. Those that adapted to changing circumstances, embraced new technologies, and prioritized their people emerged stronger, with agility, adaptability, and a willingness to learn. This became the characteristics of success in this unpredictable year.

As we gaze into the crystal ball of 2024, the future remains cloudy. However, by embracing the five key themes above, CFOs can navigate the turbulence, build resilience, and unlock the potential of their finance function.

For those of us still in the planning phase for an uncertain 2024, here are some key items to consider:

  • Embrace lifelong learning: Stay informed, upskill yourself and your team, and remain adaptable in the face of continuous technological advancements and the ongoing cyber threat
  • Prioritize your people: Invest in employee well-being, foster a culture of trust and engagement, and recognize the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce.
  • Ensure financial stability: Focusing on strategies to maintain a healthy cash flow and minimizing financial risks will continue to be paramount in 2024.
  • Integrate sustainability into your core strategy: Align your operations with environmentally conscious practices because the ESG conversation is going to grow in importance in 2024 and already CFOs and finance leaders are being looked to, as usual with any regulatory or reporting regime emerging, to lead their businesses through what for many is unchartered waters.

By remaining informed, adaptable, and prioritizing both people and sustainability, we can continue to build our resilience muscle during 2024 because whilst I am generally optimistic, the first half of 2024 looks to continue as 2023 will end. Uncertain, with challenges around every corner and the need to constantly change priorities to respond to changing conditions.  

Final Thoughts

2024 is going to continue to challenge CFOs and their finance teams, that I am certain about. And I’m also confident that the learnings from 2023 have equipped CFOs with the ability to navigate the road ahead. With 2023 now in the rearview mirror the focus shifts to the road ahead.

I look forward to hosting the Lunchtime Live series for a 5th year in 2024 and also hosting the CFO Symposiums for the first time: Sydney – Feb 8th , Melbourne – Feb 22nd and Brisbane – May 16th. Get in touch if you want to be part of it or if you would like to come on the 2024 series of CFO Lunchtime Live!

Summer Reading Tips:

Like I often ask the guests on the Lunchtime Live, I am happy to be able to share not only my reading list for Summer, but also my reading list for the next six months !

Atomic Habits by James Clear and “Elon Musk” by Walter Isaacson are the books I hope to find the time to read during my downtime over Christmas, but then over the first six months of 2024 I intend to follow the ‘Personal MBA’ reading program (book list at the end). This is a program I stumbled across on Linkedin by Ben Meer, founder of SystemSunday.

Personal MBA (Credit to Ben Meer https://benmeer.com/newsletter/personal-mba/)

The books are;

Zero to One

By Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Subject: Strategy

The Lean Startup

By Eric Ries

Subject: Entrepreneurship

Financial Intelligence

By Karen Berman, Joe Knight, John Case

Subject: Accounting/Finance

I Will Teach You to Be Rich

By Ramit Sethi

Subject: Personal Finance

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

By Al Ries and Jack Trout

Subject: Marketing

The Goal

By Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Subject: Operations

Thinking in Systems

By Donella Meadows

Subject: Systems Thinking

Steal the Show

By Michael Port

Subject: Public Speaking

Never Split the Difference

By Chris Voss

Subject: Negotiation

How to Be a Power Connector

By Judy Robinett

Subject: Networking

Team of Teams

By General Stanley A. McChrystal

Subject: Leadership

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

By Eric Jorgeson

Subject: Productivity and Effectiveness