To stay on track, retailers must become data authorities, make solid tech investments and plan for future talent – all within the remit of the CFO, says Paul Prendergast of Accenture.

With the UK high street under mounting pressure, retailers need to make more than cosmetic changes to their businesses to thrive in today’s competitive and integrated marketplace.

As customers seek out convenient, meaningful experiences in the moment, retailers need relevant, real-time customer insights more than ever.

Acquiring customers requires fundamental transformation, but who should lead this change?

Step forward chief financial officers (CFOs).

Well placed to shake up retail

Accenture research reveals that 80% of retail CFOs see themselves as best-placed to identify new value and drive business transformation across their organisation.

With a remit that extends far beyond the traditional analysis of financial performance, CFOs are in a strong position to drive changes that their wider retail business needs.

77% of retail finance chiefs are already actively driving operational transformation across their organisations, with 74% leading the adoption of digital technologies.

“With a remit that extends beyond the analysis of financial performance, CFOs are in a strong position to drive changes that their business needs”

Of course, the finance team’s data prowess can help the whole business better serve their most profitable customers, pulling retailers back from the downward spiral of discounting and promotions that has become a common feature of the high street.

However, the real opportunity for retailers lies in bringing together, and rapidly analysing, data about the customer, merchandising, supply chain and ecosystem partners.

Playing to their strengths

Accordingly, more than 80% of retail CFOs are already exploring new areas of value across partner, supplier and customer data.

This analysis is fundamental to shaping new retail offers and delivering insights in real time. And delivering it plays directly to the strengths of retail CFOs.

Making optimal use of the vast data available to them depends on retailers having the right technology foundation in place.

New digital capabilities and advanced analytics are fundamental to delivering differentiating experiences to shoppers, and investments in the front-end must integrate with the right tools and systems in the back office.

“Making optimal use of the vast data available depends on retailers having the right technology foundation in place”

Here again, retail CFOs have a crucial role to play – 89% believe finance is better equipped than other departments to achieve value from these investments.

But beware: in assuming a broader responsibility for transformation across the business, retail finance bosses need to think deeply about the new skills and talent they will need in their teams.

Shaping the retail CFOs of the future

79% of CFOs indicate that their activities are far removed from the tasks the rest of their finance function performs.

With artificial intelligence and automation able to free up junior finance professionals from mundane, transactional finance tasks, there are greater opportunities to accomplish finance’s value-focused remit.

To support this, retailers must invest in their finance teams, equipping them with valuable new skills for the future – such as data storytelling.

Research from Accenture’s 2018 Future Workforce report found that leaders across many different retail functions believe that, rather than excelling in one competency, their teams need a broader, more diverse range of skills.

“Retailers must invest in their finance teams, equipping them with skills for the future – such as data storytelling”

To help get their company on track to be more responsive, relevant and profitable, there are three areas retail CFOs must focus on:

  1. Becoming the data authority for their company
  2. Championing investments in the right technology
  3. Planning for future talent needs across their business.

Getting these things right will mean the relevance of the customer experience is constantly renewed.

Customers will have a seamless experience across all channels and retailers will have end-to-end agile processes.

It’s the retail CFO who is ideally placed to bring all this together.


Paul Prendergast is managing director of Accenture

Paul Prendergast works with CFOs and finance teams across the retail and consumer goods industries in the UK and Ireland, helping them to innovate, transform their businesses and drive greater value from intelligent business operations.

He has more than 20 years’ experience in consulting and is the author of The CFO in Retail, a study of how retail CFOs are creating new value from data and digital technologies.