Finance transformation roles: pathways to CFO

This report asks a simple question: are finance shared service and transformation roles valuable in the career path to becoming a CFO?


Can all pathways, particularly those through a corporate finance shared services role, lead to the position of CFO? ACCA’s previous reports on finance transformation have dealt with models, technology, talent, efficiency, change and effectiveness. Yet, for finance leaders, what they do, and what it means for their career, especially if they aspire to a CFO position, is just as important. Is shared services and outsourcing as a discipline, as an assignment within the current financial value chain, of any value to careers? Does it attract the best and brightest finance professionals who want to be CFOs? Or are transformation roles a graveyard for those whom the organisation believes add value, but who are not expected to achieve the top finance role. It is time to be honest, brutal and very discerning about the benefits – and challenges – of following a career route through finance shared services and outsourcing.

Right now, a so-called urban legend positions finance transformation roles as a dead end for those who want eventually to occupy the top finance seat at the executive table. Perhaps that is because of the relative immaturity of the shared service finance model or perhaps finance transformers just have not had time to reach the top; perhaps it is because organisations need to amend their view of the capabilities now required to balance agility and risk, growth and compliance in increasingly complex market contexts. Or perhaps it stems from a lack of imagination, resulting in leadership development constructs that follow the more traditional pathway through controllership roles.

Can the organisation afford to relegate finance transformation professionals to a career graveyard in the face of rapid changes in markets, globalisation, technology, and management? Are the skills that leaders pick up in finance transformation roles not similarly transformative for the organisation as a whole? Should the value ascribed to the skills and capabilities that shared services and outsourcing leaders bring to the table be reassessed? Is it time to transform the profile of the CFO?

Does finance career path myopia have a silver lining for those who take on transformation roles, creating a different, perhaps more exciting future for finance leaders? Does assignment to shared services and outsourcing roles open up new career pathways not previously available – or at least not obvious – benefiting both the leader and the organisation? This report looks into the pros and cons of taking on a finance transformation role.